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Metra to Host Lake County Public Meeting in Mundelein on its Proposed 2020 Budget, $480M in Capital Upgrades Projected

Last month Metra announced that it will be holding the line on fares in 2020 and thanks to the nearly $45 million Illinois capital bill that passed the state legislature in June, the railroad will spend $2.6 billion for capital improvements over the next five years, with a focus on railcars, locomotives, stations, bridges, and service improvements.

This week Metra released a proposed $827.4 million operating budget and outlined $480.5 million in proposed capital investments.

To discuss the new budget, the railroad is holding eight public hearings throughout the Chicagoland to discuss the new budget. In Lake County, the public hearing will take place on Tuesday, November 5 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Mundelein Village Hall-300 Plaza Circle.

Capital Budget

Over the next five years the state capital bill is expected to provide nearly $1.45 billion to Metra. Add that to $961.8 million in expected federal formula funding, $146 million from the Regional Transit Authority, $26 million in fare box revenue and $4 million from other sources, and Metra predicts it will have the nearly $2.6 billion to invest over the next half decade, more than ever before.

In 2020, Metra expects $205.2 million in state bond funds and $73.7 million in state “pay-as-you-go” or “Paygo” funding – an annual share of funding tied to the state gas tax that will grow with inflation. Funding from federal ($186.7 million) and local ($14.9 million) sources provide additional capital funding in 2020, bringing the total to $480.5 million.

The budget proposes to invest $331.1 million, or about two-thirds, of the 2020 capital cash in five major areas:

• New railcars and new locomotives, $138.8 million. Metra currently has a request for proposals pending for as many as 400 new cars, and it has asked manufacturers to propose new designs that maximize capacity and add customer amenities, which is good news, because Metra car design is currently stuck in the past. It also is buying some rehabbed locomotives and has set aside some money to buy a prototype alternative fuel locomotive.
• Locomotive and car rehabilitation, $95.3 million. Metra will continue its “innovative and cost-efficient” locomotive and car rehab programs. It also will fund new programs to overhaul 21 recently purchased Amtrak locomotives and upgrade 54 locomotives with more reliable AC traction motors.
• Stations and parking, $51.2 million. Metra is working on upgrading its stations, with an emphasis on improving wheelchair accessibility and making sure that every station has a warming shelter. Major station projects included in the 2020 program include a new Auburn Park Station on the Rock Island Line and major upgrades to the 147th Street Station on the Metra Electric Line and Hubbard Woods on the UP North Line.
• Yard rehabilitation, $23.2 million. Major projects are funded to expand the Western Avenue Yard that services trains on the Milwaukee District lines, the North Central Service and Heritage Corridor, and the California Avenue Yard that services trains on the UP lines. A lack of yard space is a factor limiting Metra’s ability to add service.
• Bridges, $22.6 million. Metra has nearly 500 bridges that are over a century old. Funding will be used to design and construct the replacement of several bridges, including the next phase of the UP North bridge project involving the design for the replacement of bridges over 11 streets between Fullerton and Addison in Chicago.

Operating Budget
Metra says it was able to head off the need for a fare increase by identifying $6 million in efficiencies this year. On top of that, it expects to save about $7 million by not filling vacancies and about $5 million by reducing overtime and other miscellaneous expenses. However, not hiring people to fill those vacant jobs could be counterproductive if it reduces Metra’s capacity for strategic planning or other important aspects of running the railroad.

The railroad says those $18 million in reductions will help offset an expected $23 million increase in operating expenses next year, including about $7 million in new operating expenses associated with Positive Train Control, the federally mandated safety system, and about $16 million in labor and various other operating expenses.

So Metra expects its overall operating budget to increase by $5 million next year, from $822 million in 2019 to $827 million in 2020, a 0.6 percent increase. Higher revenues from the regional transportation sales tax, which funds about half of Metra’s operating budget, will cover that $5 million, so no fare increase will be needed.

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