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Friday, March 26, 2010

Second train just a whistle away

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Lemont, Ill., officials would like to see more commuter train service for residents this year, and believe it is a real possibility, according to the Lemont Reporter. But a number of things must happen first before the hope comes to fruition, including increased signalization and additional bi-passes along the railroad line to improve safety and ease freight congestion. There also is the construction of a train station in Romeoville and the approval from the railway that owns the tracks.

"The overall goal is to add more commuter train service," said Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves.

The Heritage Corridor Alliance has been working with local, state and federal lawmakers, Metra, Amtrak and Canadian National Railway, the owners of the tracks along the Heritage Corridor Line, said Reaves. Metra officials have indicated they have the existing equipment and personnel to add one more train that would pick up in mid-morning and return in mid-afternoon, Reaves said.

Metra, however, only leases the property, and needs to seek approval from CN to add another commuter train. CN has indicated it would like to do a capacity study first to see how the line currently runs.

"CN is one of the big stepping stones now because they own the tracks," Reaves said. "But from everything we've been told and the correspondence that we've seen, Canadian National is being a good partner."

An intergovernmental, multi-billion dollar program to alleviate traffic congestion between freight trains, commuter trains and vehicles will also help the alliance get its extra commuter train, he said.

The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency, or CREATE program is designed to improve rail congestion and enhance safety. Besides the program, signalization upgrades and the doubling of track will be needed to make way for the Chicago-St. Louis corridor, a high-speed rail service that Illinois will fund with $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money. The project will add seven Amtrak trains per day coming through the Heritage Corridor Line, Reaves said.

While a large portion of the money is going to improvements downstate, the alliance has also been working to get upgrades along the Heritage Corridor, Reaves said.

"We're trying to make sure we emphasize to the state, Congress and everybody, this money also has to go from Joliet to downtown for the track separation, grade separation and quiet zones," Reaves said.

Romeoville recently completed a parking lot and Metra has budgeted funding for the construction of a station, a move that would help alleviate congestion at the Lemont station, Reaves said.

Other than the potential for minor costs associated with studies, the village will not have to fund the addition for another commuter train, said Lemont Village Administrator Ben Wehmeier.

A midday commuter train would be a huge addition for working parents who have children who have a doctor appointment or get sick and need to be picked up, Reaves said.

"We think that's going to be a big benefit for people who do use the train to go downtown to work," he said. "Just the convenience of having that earlier train to get back and forth, it's a quality of life issue."

Despite the number of parties needed to make the addition of a commuter train a reality, village officials are optimistic it will get done by the fall.

"Everyone seems to be headed in the same direction, which is a positive," Wehmeier said.

"I think we're very close to getting this ball rolling," Reaves said. "Metra's got the equipment and the people to run it, it's just a matter of them having CN's blessing and then we can have a big ribbon cutting and have the first midday Metra train come in."

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