Metra, UP and local, county and state elected officials break ground on April 21 in Maywood on a project to install a third track between River Forest and Melrose Park. || Below, Lois Baumann reads from The Little Engine that Could during the ceremony.| Spooner Baumann/Spooner Photography
Friday, April 21, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Metra and Union Pacific officials joined with elected officials from local, county and state governments at the corner of 5th Avenue and Main Street in Maywood on April 21 to break ground on a $100 million project to install a third track and other safety enhancements along the West Line between River Forest and Melrose Park.
The track will eliminate “two critical bottlenecks along the UP West Line that can be the source of delays for both freight and commuter trains,” according to a joint statement released by Metra and Union Pacific officials.
“The project will add nearly eight miles of third track in the only two remaining segments between Elburn and Chicago,” officials said.
Friday’s groundbreaking marked the first segment of that 8-mile track addition. The construction of that 1.8-mile section of track between River Forest and 25th Avenue in Melrose Park will start sometime in June and is expected to last for 12 months. During that time, officials said, there won’t be any service disruptions.
“We’ll establish schedules to work around [regular service],” said Bruce M. Marcheschi, Metra’s chief engineering officer. “We’ll start after the rush hour and quit before the rush hour, so we’ll be working between it. And we’ll work with our dispatchers to make sure we don’t disrupt traffic.”
Funding for the $100 million project will be paid by UP and Metra. Most of the third track will be built on land owned by UP, officials said.
Donald Orseno, Metra’s executive director and CEO, said that the third track will reduce commuter and freight train delays. Orseno said that company surveys show that delays are the most common complaint among riders.
According to Metra and UP officials, the improvement project will also enhance overall safety along the tracks, eliminate commuter curfews for freight trains, decrease the number freight trains that idle on the tracks and reduce the amount of time motorists must wait at grade crossings.
“The Metra Union Pacific West Line (UP-W) is one of the busiest rail lines in the nation,” stated officials with Metra and UP. “More than 50 freight trains and 60 Metra trains carrying nearly 30,000 passengers share the line each day.”
The construction of a third track will also accompany safety enhancements, such as the installation of an upgraded rail signal system and new crossovers “so trains can switch tracks,” according to officials.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Lance M. Fritz, Union Pacific Railroad’s chairman, president and CEO. “We’ve been working on this project for about 12 years.”
Illinois Secretary of Transportation Randall S. Blankenhorn said that the collaboration between Metra and UP represents the future of transportation investment.
“When we think about investing in transportation, this is the kind of project that we need to be thinking about,” Blankenhorn said.
“This is how things are going to get done in the future. It’s not going to be IDOT [Illinois Department of Transportation] by themselves or IDOT with one partner,” he said. “It’s going to be multiple partners coming together, finding solutions and finding funding.”
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who last August oversaw the adoption of the county’s first long-range transportation plan in 70 years, lauded UP and Metra’s partnership and commitment “to not only support freight rail but also to engage in projects that benefit passenger rail.”
She said that transit and multi-nodal transportation ranked first and freight ranked second among the plan’s priorities.
“So this plan hit those two priorities,” Preckwinkle said.
Lois Baumann, the executive director of Maywood Fine Arts — which opened a new dance studio down the street from the Maywood Metra station last year — said that the project will boost the local economy, particularly the downtown area.
“We have projects that fail, we have projects that succeed but we continue to work hard and we chug and chug and chug along. And then, every now and then, a big engine comes along,” she said, referencing the new Metra train shelter that is nearly completed and the new third track project.
“We’re looking forward to the next project,” said Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins. VFP
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