Lipinski Renews Call For More Heritage Corridor Service
DesPlaines Valley News
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) welcomed new Metra CEO Don Orseno by renewing his call for the rail transit agency to increase service on the Heritage Corridor line.
"I urge you to provide additional service on the (Heritage Corridor) line and work with me on behalf of the residents of northeast Will County and southwest Cook County to make it a reality," Lipinski said in a letter to Orseno. "Given your career railroad experience, I am hopeful that you will move Metra forward in a positive direction and that we can work together to ensure reliable and adequate Metra service for all the residents of the region."
Since 1999, Metra has operated three rush-hour round-trip trains per day on the Heritage Corridor line from Joliet to Chicago's Union Station.
During this period of time, the population served by the line has significantly increased. In Will County, between 2000 and 2010, the populations of Romeoville, Joliet and Lockport grew by 88 percent, 39 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
Southwest Cook County has also grown over the past 10 years with the populations of Lemont, Willow Springs and Summit increasing by 22 percent, 10 percent and 4 percent, respectively.
As a result, ridership on the Heritage Corridor has expanded by approximately 25 percent over the past 10 years with the potential for much greater ridership if additional service is added, Lipinski wrote.
Lipinski has been pushing for more than a year for additional service on the line, which has the fewest trains per day of any Metra line.
He held a meeting about a year ago in Washington, D.C., with Metra officials and the federal Surface Transportation Board. CN, which owns the tracks used by Metra, was invited to attend but declined.
“The purpose of the meeting was to continue efforts by Cong. Lipinski to add a morning and evening rush hour train to the Heritage Corridor,” said a Lipinski spokesman.
CN has said it was open to additional service if monies could be found to pay for infrastructure upgrades.
“The Heritage Corridor line is heavily used and there is no more capacity available,” CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said at the time.
Waldron said commitments to CN’s own traffic as well as Metra, Amtrak and other freight carriers that use the same tracks made it impossible to add the extra Metra trains without infrastructure upgrades to increase capacity in the Heritage Corridor.
He declined to put a price tag on those upgrades.
“We would need a detailed study to consider whether we need new rails, new signals and new bridges” among other new and improved infrastructure, Waldron said.
“CN would be pleased to discuss adding Metra service if government funding was available to pay for the infrastructure improvements,” he said.
The Heritage Corridor line makes stops in Lockport, Lemont, Willow Springs and Summit, and a new station is coming to Romeoville.
The Heritage Corridor line lags far behind Metra’s other 10 commuter routes in the number of trains available to commuters, which range from 22 to 170 trains per day.
Former Metra board chairman Brad O'Halloran, of Orland Park, had been a strong supporter of increased Heritage Corridor service and attended the meeting in Washington.
Lipinski has said he would consider legislative options that would give the agency more leverage in getting the Canadian National railroad to accommodate additional passenger trains.
“Nothing has been introduced,” said the spokesman. “The congressman is considering legislation that would allow commuter railroads to petition the Surface Transportation Board for mediation.”
The Surface Transportation Board is an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation that regulates and oversees rails and railroads. It is the same agency that had to approve CN’s acquisition of the EJ&E short line railroad a few years ago.
“As of now, only freight railroads and Amtrak have the right to petition the Surface Transportation Board,” the spokesman said. “This would extend that same privilege to commuter railroads.”
Summit Mayor Joseph W. Strzelczyk has said he was strongly in favor of additional service on the Heritage Corridor line, which stops in his village.
“I think it would be a great thing for us and the area. It would help the people looking to go downtown,” he said.
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