Posts Tagged ‘Metra’

Amtrak, Metra Trade Barbs in Latest STB Filings in CUS Case

February 23, 2021

Recent filings by Amtrak and Chicago commuter carrier Metra with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board show that the two sides remain are fighting  over which party will control the station.

Amtrak owns the facility but claims in its filings that Metra is trying to wrest away control of the station.

The two have long been at odds over a new Metra lease and Metra has raised questions about Amtrak’s ownership of the building.

Metra contends Amtrak unlawfully merged long-time station owner Chicago Union Station Company into Amtrak.

The ownership issue had arisen in 2018 but at the time the STB said it would be premature for it to rule on that matter, indicating it would issue a ruling at an unspecified future date.

Metra contends that Amtrak “bias” stemming its ownership of the station is the basis for many of the ongoing issues separating the two sides.

The commuter rail agency argues that if the STB agrees that the parties would be better served by “balancing public interests” then there would be no basis for imposing Amtrak-requested terms that derive from an entirely different perspective.

Amtrak said in its filing that it must have the ability to manage, oversee, and coordinate service and operations at its station.

Therefore Amtrak said it is seeking clear rights and responsibilities to be delineated in a future access agreement.

The intercity passenger carrier called “not feasible” Metra’s demand that any reduction of the number of Metra trains or revision of peak periods must have its consent.

Metra wants to be able to increase its train movements at Union Station by 5 percent.

Amtrak said as owner it must have the ability to control and coordinate train schedules.

This includes dwell times for Metra trains. Amtrak wants to decree that Metra trains have as little as 10 minutes of dwell time during peak periods, some thing Metra has called “wasteful, unnecessary and arbitrary” because Amtrak has not presented any evidence that the limits are based on operating experience or need.

Amtrak also expressed concern about a Metra proposal that it be allowed to store some trains in the station overnight.

Amtrak, Metra Remain Far Apart Over CUS Lease

February 18, 2021

Amtrak and Chicago commuter carrier Metra remain far apart in their dispute over a new lease for the latter to use Chicago Union Station.

Documents filed with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board verge on contempt for some positions taken by the other party.

A Metra attorney wrote to the board on Feb. 8 seeking to strike a Jan. 29 letter from Amtrak, calling the letter an impermissible, “abusive” and “highly prejudicial” response to an earlier filing in which the sides jointly offered an update on results of their mediation efforts.

Amtrak countered by telling the STB that its letter was substantive changes to a Metra correction of earlier errors, and says it feels “compelled to address the faux outrage contained in Metra’s letter.”

Amtrak said its letter was providing context for those corrections that Metra “should have provided . . . but did not.”

The intercity passenger carrier argued that its Jan. 29 filing was proper, but it will not object if Metra wishes file a full response.

Both sides face a Feb. 19 deadline to file responses to each other’s earlier filing on remaining disagreements.

STB Filings Show Areas of Dispute Over CUS

January 27, 2021

In documents filed with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, Amtrak and Chicago commuter railroad Metra have listed areas of disagreement in a dispute over Chicago Union Station.

Amtrak owns the station and has been at loggerheads with Metra over various issues.

The intercity passenger carriers wants the STB to help settle the unresolved 16 issues.

Metra has countered that all of the issues can still be resolved through negotiation.

Among the unresolved issues are dwell time for Metra equipment, for boarding disembarking, and turnaround service.

Amtrak wants those to be limited to 10 minutes during peak period, one hour during weekday off-peak periods, and five hours on weekends and holidays.

Metra has described this as an attempt by Amtrak to “impose arbitrary and unnecessary time restrictions on Metra equipment layovers untethered to a demonstrable Amtrak need.”

The commuter railroad would rather that Metra equipment remain at the station as long as circumstances warrant so long as it does not interfere with Amtrak operations.

In its filing, Amtrak said 10 of the 16 remaining issues should be addressed by the Board.

Metra countered that it is willing to accept Amtrak’s most recent proposed terms in two areas with five areas being addressed by the board.

Both parties want the STB to settle procedures governing Metra schedule changes and increases in service.

Amtrak has said it is willing to cooperate with Metra, “but ultimately, a single party must have final scheduling” authority.

Metra is seeking what it termed “protection from arbitrary changes” and opposes Amtrak serving as the sole arbiter of whether a refusal to accommodate additional Metra trains is reasonable.

Amtrak, Metra Lists Areas of Agreement in CUS Dispute

January 25, 2021

Chicago commuter rail operator Metra and Amtrak have filed documents with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board showing areas of agreement in a dispute over Chicago Union Station.

The terminal, which Amtrak owns and at which Metra is a tenant, has been the subject of a long-running dispute.

The joint filing said they’ve reached agreement on such issues as Metra’s right to change schedules and operate special or test trains; Amtrak’s right to review the interoperability of new or overhauled Metra equipment to be used at Union Station; and notification procedures by Amtrak when an event causes disruption or annulment of Metra service.

The document also stipulates that Amtrak will continue to dispatch Metra trains at the station and there will be monthly meetings to review on-time and dispatching performance, as well as service disruptions.

The two sides describe in the document a complex formula for future recalculations of Metra’s rent based on costs including maintenance of way, dispatching, station operations and policing

However, the document indicates that the initial rent figure is among the 16 issues that remain undecided.

The dispute over Union Station has been ongoing for more than two years with some issues having been resolved through mediation.

Amtrak at one point demanded that Metra pay more than $17 million in annual rent.

Metra has been paying substantially less than that, including $9.66 million in 2018.

Amtrak, Metra Want Mediation Over CUS Lease Extended

November 7, 2020

Amtrak and Metra have asked federal regulators for more time in mediation to resolve a dispute over the commuter railroad’s lease at Chicago Union Station.

The two sides told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that they have made progress in their talks.

The STB is helping to mediate the dispute, which has been ongoing for several years.

The STB’s mediation was to have ended on Oct. 30, but an attorney involved in the process told the agency that the sides want to extend the mediation to Dec. 4.

The letter said “further mediation would benefit them and the Board by facilitating further agreement. … Mediation has already resolved certain issues, and may yet resolve all others.”

Any unresolved issues will be brought to the STB on or after Dec. 4.

Glenview Station to Get Repairs

October 16, 2020

The station used by Amtrak in Glenview, Illinois, will be getting repairs.

The village of Glenview has reached agreement with Chicago commuter rail operator Metra on an estimated $230,000 in maintenance including roof repairs, painting, and replacement to an electric door

The agreement calls for Metra to reimburse the village for the work.

The two sides also agreed that another $4,000 project will repair landscaping along under the rail line that is also used by Canadian Pacific and Amtrak trains.

Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee and its Empire Builder between Chicago and Seattle/Portland uses the line.

Ground Breaking Ceremony Held for Rebuilding of the Amtrak, Metra Homewood Station

September 30, 2020

A conductor picks up a step box after passengers have finished disembarking from the northbound Illini at Homewood, Illinois in September 1996

A groundbreaking ceremony was held this week to mark the launch of a $29 million project to renovate the Homewood, Illinois, Amtrak and Metra station.

The work, which began in July, will improve the accessibility of the facility located alongside Canadian National tracks and served by Amtrak’s City of New Orleans, Illini and Saluki.

Workers will replace the station stairway and install a ramp to allow passengers access to a tunnel under the tracks, which leads to the boarding platforms.

Other work planned for next year includes leveling the path between the station building, parking area and entrance to the tunnel.

Metra plans to replace its existing station structure on the east side of the tracks, renovate the existing tunnel and create accessible paths from both ends of the tunnel.

The tunnel, which is 109 years old, will be waterproofed, receive improved lighting, drainage and ventilation systems, and be coated in a graffiti resistant finish.

Amtrak is spending $15 million on the $29 million project, Metra is chipping in $14 million, the village of Homewood will contribute $585,000 and Cook County will provide $300,000.

The Homewood station was built by the Illinois Central Railroad in 1923.

Amtrak plans to build a ramp building to house the elevator and walkways. The work also includes renovating the waiting area and restrooms of the existing station.

“We’ll put down new tile and move some walls to make the restrooms accessible, but you should be able to distinguish what is new and what was original to this space without taking away any of the history or character of the building — it’s really a beautiful station,” Amtrak Project Manager Jamie Shindell said.

For now Amtrak passengers are unable to board or disembark from trains in Homewood due to the construction.

Instead, they are riding buses to and from the next Amtrak station to the south, Kankakee.

Amtrak expects trains to resume boarding and disembarking in Homewood from a temporary platform in late March 2021. The project is expected to be completed by October 2021.

IDOT Hires Manger for Rockford Project

September 29, 2020

The Illinois Department of Transportation has hired a project manager for its efforts to restore rail passenger service between Chicago and Rockford.

Engineering services firm WSP USA was hired to oversee the project, which could involve contracting with Amtrak or Chicago rail commuter rail provider Metra.

IDOT has been talking with host railroad Union Pacific about infrastructure work needed for the service.

Trains would use an existing Metra route between Chicago and Elgin and then travel what are now freight-only tracks to Rockford.

Rockford lost rail service in late September 1981 due to a state budget cut for intercity rail passenger funding.

At the time Rockford was on a route between Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa, that used former Illinois Central Gulf tracks.

Union Urges Caution Among its Members

June 24, 2020

A union representing track maintenance workers is urging its members to take precautions while working to avoid contracting COVID-19.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters also took aim at Amtrak and Chicago commuter railroad Metra for being negligent in testing and tracing employees for COVID-19.

The union said there has been a rash of positive coronavirus cases among its members at several railroads, estimating 109 members have been affected by a coronavirus exposure.

Of those 15 individuals tested positive and remaining 94 are in a self-contained quarantine.

In a statement, union officials said doctors expect many of those in in quarantine will test positive in the coming days.

Those workers were employed by Amtrak, BNSF, CSX, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

Three union members have died from COVID-19.

The union said some of the spread of COVID-19 has come from post-work socializing. It urged its members to be more cautious by isolating and separating as much as possible.

“Go outside to hang out. Keep some distance,” the union told its members.

In the meantime, some union members have established informational picketing in front of the home of Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the passenger performs contact tracing in accordance with federal Center for Diseases Control guidelines and performs no-expense testing for those with symptoms or possible exposure.

However, the union said social distancing is often impossible in its work and it wants monthly testing as well as temperature screenings before work.

After accusing Metra of putting employees and passengers at greater risk, the rail commuter railroad said in a statement that the union’s views were “distorted.”

Amtrak Takes CUS Dispute to STB (Again)

May 29, 2020

For the third time a dispute between Amtrak and Chicago commuter railroad operator Metra has landed before the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

Amtrak has asked the agency to settle a dispute between the two over terms and compensation for Metra’s use of Chicago Union Station, which Amtrak owns.

The STB in 2018 turned aside a request from Metra to settle dispute, calling Metra’s request premature.

The agency has yet to act on a 2019 request by Amtrak to help settle the dispute.

Amtrak’s latest STB petition is seeking more than $17 million annually from Metra and includes a list of 17 terms that the intercity passenger carrier wants to impose on Metra in a contract that would last 10 years.

A Metra spokesman said his agency will have a response to the Amtrak petition by late June and that discussions between the two sides are ongoing.

Amtrak contends that Metra should be paying $15.3 million under its allocation formula for operating costs, including maintenance of way, dispatching, station operation and maintenance, and policing.

Another $1.7 million would be Metra’s fee for “tier 1” capital expenditures with an amount to be determined for “tier 2” expenditures.

Amtrak has long argued that Metra is “drastically under contributing” to the station complex’s capital costs.

Although Amtrak provided an exact dollar figures of how much it argues that Metra should be paying, it along with other information was redacted from the petition.

As recently as 2018, Metra paid Amtrak $9.66 million to use CUS.

Among the terms that Amtrak wants the STB to impose upon Metra are providing a written request to increase or modify service levels.

Currently Metra can add service at its discretion but Amtrak wants the two sides to evaluate the station’s ability to accommodate service changes before they are made.

Other conditions sought by Amtrak include basing Metra’s annual fee on the operation of 111,497 trains annually with with additional fees for each additional train, including specials and test trains.

Amtrak is seeking the right to remove from service any Metra equipment “that does not meet Amtrak’s written safety or operation standards, or legal or regulatory requirements.”

The copy of the petition available to the public redacted such information as the percentage of trains using the station by each carrier.

It is widely believed that Metra accounts for 90 percent of that total.

Also redacted is the percentage of passengers for each carrier who use the station, the portion of the station’s 489,555 square feet used by each carrier and the number of Amtrak police offices assigned to CUS.