Metra, Amtrak spar over rent at Chicago Union Station

Written by David Lester, Managing Editor
Regional Transportation Authority
File photo courtesy of Metra

In business, one often needs a scorecard to keep up with who pays who for what.  In the case of Metra’s use of Chicago Union Station, Amtrak owns the station and Metra must pay rent.  The current lease for Metra’s use of the station was prepared and signed in 1984 and expires Monday, July 29.  And, Amtrak and Metra cannot agree on terms for a new one.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Amtrak has asked the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to intervene and set the rate for the new lease agreement.  Chicago commuters can take comfort, though, that service will continue as usual during the negotiation.  According to Amtrak’s Marc Magliari, “There will be no interruption of Metra’s usage within the station.  Customers will see absolutely no differences.”

One of the tasks of the STB is to settle differences between railroads, so it must determine Metra’s annual payment for use of the station, which is now $9.66 million.  Magliari said that since 1984, Metra’s use of the station has increased 40 percent.  According to the Sun-Times, the disagreement centers around how the usage fee should change, along with how capital improvement costs should be divided between the two agencies.

Amtrak petitioned the STB on July 22, saying that “Despite protracted negotiations ongoing for more than a year, the parties cannot come to an agreement regarding operating and maintenance cost-sharing, an infrastructure recapitalization arrangement, or the terms of the contract.”  The petition also pointed out that it prevents any federally prohibited cross-subsidies of commuter rail and inter-city passenger rail.  Further, Amtrak would like for Metra to pay a portion of the capital improvement costs that benefit both agencies, while Metra should pay 100 percent of costs that benefit only Metra.

Amtrak argues that the proposal “includes fair, adequate, and reasonable terms that allow Metra to continue to access and use Chicago Union Station in a manner that is equitable to both Metra and Amtrak.”

Mike Gillis, a spokesperson for Metra, told the Sun-Times in an email: “Metra is seeking the best deal for its customers and for the taxpayers of northeastern Illinois. We agree that requesting the involvement of the Surface Transportation Board at this juncture is appropriate and we look forward to making our case there.”

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