Metra Outlines 2024 Construction Plan

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor, Railway Age
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(Metra Photograph)

CHICAGO – Metra on April 3 detailed its construction program for 2024, covering station, track, road crossing, bridge, and signal/communications improvement projects along the Chicagoland commuter railroad’s 11 lines totaling nearly 500 route-miles.

In addition to major projects to replace aging bridges on the UP North Line; track, electrical and signal upgrades on the Metra Electric; and major tie replacement projects on four lines, the 2024 construction program also includes numerous smaller infrastructure improvements distributed across Metra’s lines.

Construction work—performed by the commuter railroad’s in-house crews; employees of its freight partners, including BNSF and Union Pacific (UP); and private contractors—is already under way and will continue through the fall, weather permitting, Metra reported. Most work will be performed during off-peak hours and on weekends.

In Metra’s 2024 capital program, $332.4 million has been allocated for construction projects. This includes $81.6 million for station and parking improvements, $22 million for track maintenance, $140.7 million for bridge projects, $6.4 million for rail crossing replacements, and $66.2 million for signal electrical and communications maintenance and upgrades. Funding for some 2024 projects was allocated in prior years’ capital programs or came from outside sources, including municipalities and Metra’s freight railroad partners, according to the commuter railroad, which noted that it is also contributing funds for station repairs and upgrades that will be performed by a municipality or its contractors.

Metra said that the timing of the projects outlined below may change and, when warranted, projects may be added to or removed from the list.

(Metra Photograph)

Station Improvements

Improvements are planned this year for 35 of Metra’s 242 stations. Along the Metra Electric Line, the commuter railroad said it is continuing a multi-year effort to rebuild stations and improve accessibility with major projects either already under way or slated to begin at 79th, 87th, 95th, 103rd and 147th streets, as well as Homewood and Harvey.

Platform replacements are scheduled at Wood Dale on the Milwaukee West Line, Vermont Street on the Rock Island Line, Cary and Crystal Lake on the UP Northwest Line, and Kedzie on the UP West Line. Work will also continue on the replacement of platforms and station facilities at Grayland on the Milwaukee District North Line. The new Peterson/Ridge Station on the UP North Line is set to open this spring, Metra said, and work will continue at the new Auburn Park Station on the Rock Island Line. The stations at 107th and 115th Street on the Rock Island Line’s Beverly Branch and LaGrange Road on the BNSF Line are scheduled for rehabilitation projects, and new bike racks will be installed at 10 stations across Metra. Stations along the Blue Island Branch of the Metra Electric Line will be repainted.

(Metra Photograph)

Track Improvements

Approximately 129,000 railroad ties are slated to be replaced this year by Metra and its railroad partners, according to the commuter railroad. On the Rock Island Line, workers are about to begin replacing 32,000 ties between Gresham and Mokena. About 20,000 ties will be replaced later this summer between 179th Street in Orland Park and Manhattan on the SouthWest Service. The UP North Line will have 40,000 ties replaced between Chicago and Highland Park, and 37,000 ties will be replaced between Chicago and Des Plaines on the UP Northwest Line.

Metra said it is also preparing for the installation of a fourth track on the Metra Electric Line to accommodate the expansion of Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s (NICTD) South Shore Line service, and for work on the project to connect the Milwaukee West Line to the UP Belvidere subdivision in preparation for the Illinois Department of Transportation-funded extension to Rockford. Work continues on the final phase of UP West third main project, which Metra said will remove a “critical bottleneck” between West Chicago and Geneva by adding a third track. Metra will also be replacing worn rail on curves, stations and at various locations across the system.

(Metra Photograph)

Road Crossing Improvements

Metra and its railroad partners plan to make improvements to 35 road crossings systemwide in 2024, according to the commuter railroad.

On the Rock Island Line, four crossings will be replaced, including Cedar Road in New Lenox and Central Avenue, Laflin and 100th streets in Chicago. On the SouthWest Service, crossings will be replaced at 153rd Street in Orland Park and Laraway Road in New Lenox. The rail crossings at Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville, Route 134 in Round Lake, and Hazel Street in Deerfield will be replaced on the Milwaukee District North Line. On the Milwaukee District West Line, crossings will be replaced at Gifford Road in Elgin, Western Avenue in Bartlett, and Park Street in Roselle. Five crossings on the Metra Electric Line at Dante Avenue/71st Street, 77th Street, Honore Street, 126th Street/Wood Street and Michigan Avenue will be replaced.

Five crossings on the BNSF Line will be replaced, including Cowley Road and Harlem Avenue in Riverside, Lincoln and Monroe streets in Hinsdale, and Ridgeland Avenue in Berwyn. Pedestrian gates will also be upgraded at Garfield Avenue and Washington and Lincoln streets in Hinsdale, as well as at Grand and Lawn avenues in Western Springs.

On the UP lines, 13 crossings will be replaced. This includes the crossings at Lake and Wilmette avenues in Wilmette, Lincoln Avenue in Highland Park, Old Elm Road in Ft. Sheridan, Martin Luther King Drive in North Chicago, and Shiloh Boulevard in Zion on the UP North Line. Crossings on the UP Northwest Line slated for replacement this year are Pearson Street in Des Plaines, Main Street in Cary, and Lillian Street in McHenry. The UP West Line is scheduled for crossing replacements at 1st Avenue in Maywood, Main Street in Glen Ellyn, Western Avenue in Geneva, and Il Route 47 in Elburn.

Bridge Improvements

A major project to rebuild 11 120-year-old bridges between Fullerton and Addison on the UP North Line is expected to get under way later this year, Metra reported. The project will also replace four miles of track structure and 1.75 miles of retaining walls. The $337 million project received a $117 million grant under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Mega Grant Program

Metra said it will also be working through the final stages of construction of a new bridge over Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, adjacent to the Grayland Station on the Milwaukee District North Line. Aging bridges will also be replaced at Ingleside on the Milwaukee District North Line and at Stony Creek in Chicago Ridge on the SouthWest Service. The Hickory Creek Bridge on the Rock Island Line in Joliet will undergo rehab.

(Metra Photograph)

Signal/Communications Improvements

Metra reported that its Signal Department is undertaking several major projects in 2024. One of the largest will be the replacement of the 123-year-old 16th Street Tower on the Rock Island Line. Additionally, the Department will be working at various locations on the Metra Electric Line to upgrade infrastructure and to install new control points in preparation for the NICTD South Shore expansion project. On the Milwaukee District, the Department will be starting a project to upgrade signal systems between Canal Street and the A-2 interlocking in Chicago, and completing work on a multi-year project to upgrade signals at Lake Forest on the Milwaukee District North Line.

In the past few years, Metra said it has been working to upgrade technology at its road crossings. It said it has been “installing SMART crossing technology that allows continual remote monitoring of crossing devices to identify performance issues and enable proactive maintenance.” This year, the commuter railroad is planning SMART crossing upgrades at 112th/115th streets on the Rock Island Line, seven locations on the Milwaukee District North Line, and 14 locations on the Metra Electric Line South Chicago Branch. As funding becomes available, Metra said, it plans to deploy this technology throughout its system.

Also in 2024, Metra reported that it will continue the installation of ticket vending machines at stations across its system, as well as new electronic signage on platforms.

Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski

On the Metra Electric Line, the Electrical Department will be working on the Jackson, Matteson, and Homewood substations, renewing power feed infrastructure at various locations between 79th and 147th streets, renewing AC distribution infrastructure between Flossmoor and University Park, and making infrastructure improvements to support the expansion of NICTD’s South Shore Line service.

“We plan to take full advantage of the construction season to address projects big and small across the railroad,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “Thanks to our leaders in Washington and Springfield, Metra has received significant financial support in recent years to help us begin to address a backlog of critical capital projects that will benefit our riders for years to come.”

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