Metra releases ambitious 2021 infrastructure repair/construction agenda

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
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BNSF will be working on the Metra BNSF line this weekend.
David C. Lester

Spring traditionally marks the beginning of construction season across the Chicago region and the Metra system is no exception. Work has already started on Metra’s 2021 construction program and will continue throughout summer and fall.

Metra’s 2021 program includes work on two completely new stations, starting the replacement of a 122-year-old bridge over Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago and replacing more than 45,000 railroad ties across the Metra system. Work will also continue on multiyear projects to replace aging bridges and complete the Ravenswood Station on the UP North Line and to construct new track segments on the UP West Line.

The bulk of the 2021 construction program includes smaller infrastructure improvement and maintenance projects distributed across Metra’s 11 lines. Together, these projects will ensure Metra customers continue to enjoy safe and reliable service.

“Construction season is always a busy and exciting time at Metra as we see our plans come to fruition and perform the maintenance necessary to maintain safe and efficient operations,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “Lower service levels due to the pandemic will help us move some of these track projects along more quickly and ultimately reduce inconvenience for our customers.”

The work is being performed by Metra’s in-house crews, who are dispatched to make repairs to stations and perform track work, or by contracted construction firms for larger projects. Metra also contributes funds for station repairs and upgrades that are performed by a municipality or its contractors.

In Metra’s 2021 capital program, $171.3 million has been allocated for the types of construction projects included in this release: $47.3 million for station and parking improvements, $48.1 million for bridges and track improvements, and $75.8 million for signal and communications system upgrades. Additional funding for some of the projects included in this release was allocated in prior years’ capital programs or came from outside sources, including municipalities and Metra’s freight railroad partners.

Timing of the projects listed below may change and, when warranted, projects may be added to or removed from this list. A project list and map can be found here.


Improvements are planned for seven of Metra’s 242 stations this year, and work will proceed on two new ones. On the Rock Island Line, work continues on a new $30 million station at Auburn Park in Chicago. Work also will begin on a new $15 million station at Peterson Ridge on the Union Pacific North Line and on the new inbound platform at the Ravenswood Station.

On the Metra Electric Line, the 147th Street Station in Harvey will undergo rehabilitation that will include a new elevator to make the station accessible to persons with disabilities.

Platforms will be replaced at the Franklin Park Station on the Milwaukee District West Line, the Chicago Ridge and Oak Lawn stations on the SouthWest Service and at Mundelein on the North Central Service. The city of North Chicago will oversee a Metra-funded rehab of the station on the Union Pacific North Line, replacing the roof, windows, and exterior siding.

Metra is also planning station beautification projects across the system in 2021 and will announce these plans at a later date.


Metra and its railroad partners plan to make improvements to 22 road crossings systemwide in 2021.

Three crossings will be replaced on the Metra Electric Line. The Dorchester Avenue crossing on the line’s South Chicago Branch will be replaced as will the State Street and 127th Street crossings on the line’s Blue Island Branch.

On the Milwaukee District North Line, five crossings will be replaced, including four crossings on Chicago’s near west side at Aberdeen, May, Morgan and Carpenter streets. The line’s fifth crossing project will be at Sayton Road in Fox Lake. The Milwaukee District West Line will have two crossing projects in 2021 at Elm Street in Franklin Park and 75th Avenue in Elmwood Park.

On the Rock Island Line, Metra plans to replace the crossings at 99th Street on the Beverly Branch and at Old Hickory Road in New Lenox. The New Lenox project will be in conjunction with a larger IDOT project at that location.

BNSF Railway will replace crossings at, Fairview Avenue in Downers Grove, River Road in Naperville and Wolf Road in Western Springs. In Hinsdale, BNSF plans to replace the Stough Street crossing as well as the pedestrian crossing at Park Avenue.

On the UP North Line, UP Railroad plans to replace the Maple Hill Road crossing in Glencoe and on the UP Northwest Line, the Sayre Avenue crossing in Chicago’s Norwood Park neighborhood will be replaced.


Metra and its railroad partners plan to replace approximately 45,000 railroad ties this year with tie projects scheduled on the Metra Electric, Milwaukee District West, Southwest Service and BNSF lines.
Metra will replace 13,000 ties from Millennium Station to Kensington on the Metra Electric Line. Another 13,000 ties will be replaced on the Milwaukee District West Line between the A-5 interlocker on Chicago’s west side on and River Grove. On its SouthWest Service, Metra will replace 13,000 ties between the Ashburn neighborhood on Chicago’s south side and Orland Park. BNSF plans to replace 6,300 ties between Berwyn and Hinsdale.

On the UP West Line, work will continue on a multiyear project to add eight miles of third track between River Forest and Geneva. When complete, bottlenecks that are a significant source of freight and passenger train delays will be eliminated. UP will also rehabilitate its Seeger interlocker in Des Plaines on the UP Northwest Line.  

On the Milwaukee District West Line, Metra will replace the track diamonds at the B-12 interlocking in Franklin Park.


There are five major bridge projects planned on the Metra system in 2021 including the completion of the first phase of a multiyear project to replace century-old bridges on the UP North Line in Chicago.

On the Milwaukee District North Line, Metra will break ground on the replacement of a 122-year-old bridge over Milwaukee Avenue on Chicago’s northwest side adjacent to the Grayland Station. The project will also include raising the Grayland Station platforms to meet the new bridge height.

On the Rock Island Line, Metra plans to begin work on the CREATE program’s EW-2 project, which will raise the height of the Metra bridge between 78th and 79th streets on Chicago’s south side. This work is tied to the construction of the new Auburn Park Station. Metra will also build new bridges on the Rock Island Line at 43rd and Root streets in Chicago. On the UP North Line, UP plans to repaint bridges at Dempster and Davis streets in Evanston.


The 2021 construction program includes two pilot projects to test rail crossing monitoring systems that will allow Metra to track equipment performance and better enable proactive maintenance. As part of this program, Metra will test Siemens Smart Gate technology at five crossings in Mokena on the Rock Island Line as well as technology developed in-house at 14 crossings along the Metra Electric Line’s South Chicago Branch. Both initiatives will enable Metra to evaluate the performance of these technologies in real-world applications and determine the costs and requirements for future capital investments.

In addition to the crossing monitoring projects, Metra plans the replacement and upgrade of signal crossing equipment at 19 locations across its system, including multiple locations in Franklin Park and Elmwood Park on the Milwaukee District West Line and in Oak Lawn on the SouthWest Service.

On the Milwaukee District North Line, signal improvements and associated upgrades will take place at the Grayland interlocking in Chicago and the Rondout interlocking in northern Lake County. Four control points in Blue Island and Robbins on the Rock Island Line will also receive upgrades.

In addition to the projects listed above, other smaller projects, including brush-cutting and rail maintenance, will occur as needed. Most work will be performed during off-peak hours and on weekends.

Metra will issue construction schedules for its trains during some of these projects. Construction schedules are issued when workers need to be on or very near the tracks, requiring trains to reduce speed or stop before proceeding through the construction zone. These schedules, in general, can add 10 to 15 minutes to the length of a trip. When construction schedules are in place, the modified schedules are reflected in Metra’s web-based “Find Next Departure” tool and online schedules and in the Ventra App’s Transit Tracker feature. All construction schedules will be posted on this page.

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