The bridge, located about 35 miles from downtown Chicago, is a 500-foot, single-track railroad bridge that is used by 49 Metra trains and up to eight Canadian Pacific trains each weekday. It provides a critical link between the overnight train storage and maintenance yard in Elgin and the rest of the line and, starting next year, it will begin to be used by Amtrak trains between Rockford and Chicago.
The bridge was originally built in 1881, but half of its spans were replaced in 1905 and the other half in 1926. Although the structure has been regularly maintained, many components are significantly deteriorated and can no longer be economically repaired. In addition, the signal equipment dates from the 1950s and needs to be updated so it is compliant with standards for positive train control (PTC).
Metra has applied for a $17 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant to help cover the $34 million cost of replacing the bridge, known by its bridge number, Z-100. Metra is proposing to contribute a local share of $11 million and Canadian Pacific is proposing to cover the final $6 million.
"We are grateful that our political leaders recognize the critical need to replace this bridge and we are hopeful that their support will help us secure the funding we need," said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. "Building a new bridge will help eliminate delays, create jobs, spur economic development and allow us to meet future needs along the Milwaukee West Line."
The bridge is the only single-track section between Chicago and Elgin, creating a bottleneck at either end. Trains must reduce speed to move over the aging bridge, and train schedules must be coordinated so trains do not arrive at the bridge at the same time. In addition, any blockages on the single-track segment can lead to significant delays for freight traffic and the 6.8 million passengers who use the line each year.
Metra estimates that speed restrictions, train conflicts and signal problems at the bridge add 36,000 passenger hours annually to travel times of its riders. If the bridge and signal equipment are allowed to continue to degrade, delays will continue to increase in frequency and duration.
Metra is proposing to replace the bridge with a completely new structure with two tracks and a modern, PTC-compliant signal system. The new bridge and signals will eliminate speed restrictions, improve the line's reliability and operational flexibility, reduce maintenance costs and help ensure the continued efficient operation of the Chicago region's rail network.
A new bridge will ensure the continued reliable operation of the line, which provides a critical link to jobs in Chicago as well as a reverse-commute option for people working in Elgin. Dependable transportation links between jobs and qualified workers are particularly important to the city of Elgin, which qualifies under federal guidelines as an Economically Distressed Area.
A new bridge also will make it much easier for Metra to improve service on the line. Demand for service is expected to grow; the population along the line is projected to increase by 260,000 residents between 2010 and 2050, and nearly 200,000 jobs are expected to be added in the same time period.