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Metra forms P3 to test reverse-commute service to Lake County

Written by Kyra Senese, managing editor
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Metra has reached an agreement with Lake County business and civic organizations to split the costs of a potential two-year pilot project for two new reverse-commute trains along its Milwaukee District North Line.

The commuter railroad said it will work with these groups on establishing a definitive agreement to share the cost of installing a universal crossover near Lake Forest, which Metra stated would enable further opportunities for enhanced service.

The public-private partnership agreement must be approved by Metra’s Board of Directors, and officials said the agreement is a milestone reflecting a process that started with an appearance by Lake County officials at a Metra Board meeting in April.

The Lake County officials asked the railroad to examine methods of enhancing reverse-commute service to Lake County in order for them to effectively recruit and retain employees living in Chicago. They also said better train service would cut down on roadway congestion and would likely improve employee satisfaction.

Following months of discussion, Metra and Lake County Partners, an economic development corporation affiliated with Lake County businesses and government, agreed to a public-private partnership that would investigate the viability of increased service.

The groups are set to evenly split the $1.4 million cost of operating one new reverse-commute train in each rush period as part of a two-year demonstration project. They also plan to work on a definitive agreement to divide the $4.75 million cost of installing a crossover near Lake Forest, with the partners contributing $2.75 million, Metra contributing $1 million and local governments contributing $1 million.

“At a time when Metra is pinched for operating and capital funding, this partnership is an innovative way to test the demand for service to Lake County and potentially improve our infrastructure,” said Metra CEO and Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “We are hopeful that this initiative will build our ridership, help local businesses to recruit top talent and have a positive impact on economic activity in Lake County.”

Metra Chairman Norman Carlson said the railroad hopes the model is a successful method of handling funding challenges going forward.

“This project makes it even easier to live in Chicago and work in Lake County. Thanks to the hard work and support of so many local leaders, this unique partnership will give our business 2  community even greater access to workforce talent,” noted Lake County Partners President and CEO Kevin Considine.

Metra explained its current schedule is not ideally planned for reverse-commute riders to and from Lake Forest, the station closest to several major employers. There are no morning outbound express trains, and most afternoon trains are too early or too late for many employees.

Changes to the current schedule were not possible until recently, Metra said, when the railroad upgraded its signal system, facilitating more flexibility.

Under the proposal, Metra would add a new early morning outbound express train, change the schedule of one inbound afternoon train to create express service from Lake County and would add a new inbound train that would depart from Lake Forest at 5:30 p.m. and arriving at Union Station at 6:22 p.m. The new schedule would start in January, Metra said.

A copy of the new schedule can be viewed here.

If the pilot project identifies a strong market for reverse-commute service and Metra finds the service is self-sustaining, the partners agree that they will enter into an agreement to fund the construction of a new crossover near the Lake Forest Station.

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