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UP, Illinois DOT to fund third main track on Metra's West Line

At a ceremony held Friday in Bellwood, Ill., Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Union Pacific Railroad President and Chief Operating Officer Lance Fritz, Metra Chairman Martin Oberman, and other state and local officials announced UP and the Illinois Department of Transportation will provide funding to bolster Metra’s UP/West Line.

The state and UP each will provide $45 million for the construction of a new third mainline from River Forest to Melrose Park, and from West Chicago to Geneva. The West Line improvements are designed to ensure smoother traffic flow and reduce conflicts between freight and commuter trains that share the line, improving the route’s reliability and efficiency, UP and state officials said in a press release.

"The additional joint investment in the West Line improvement project is critical to train operations, since the line accounts for 70 freight and 59 passenger trains a day," said Fritz.

Earlier projects completed by Metra and UP modernized the West Line's signal system and added crossovers to make freight movements more efficient. A third phase of work — which involves improvements to the Lombard and Wheaton Metra stations — is scheduled for completion in 2015.

"This final piece of the West Line improvement program will enhance commuter and freight travel on one of our state’s busiest rail lines," said Quinn.

Metra aims to ensure that every project the agency executes — including the line upgrades — consider commuters' needs first, said Oberman.

"We are confident the West Line improvements will greatly improve the commuter experience," he said.

Also during the ceremony, the various officials marked the completion of a more than $80 million Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program project.

The work involved the construction of a rail overpass, rehabilitation of two passenger stations and the addition of pedestrian tunnels in Bellwood and Berkeley, as well as signal and track improvements along the UP/Metra West Line. The project primarily was funded through a $52 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant, $27 million commitment from UP and other freight railroad partners, $3 million in additional federal funding and $615,000 from the the state.

The project created and supported 1,000 jobs, while relieving congestion and delays on the most frequently used UP line into Chicago, said Durbin, adding that more than 1,000 trains pass through the nation's busiest rail hub each day.

"Protecting and investing in our nation’s infrastructure, and specifically in Illinois’ transportation network, is one of my top priorities," he said.

To date, 21 of the CREATE program's 70 projects have been completed, generating a 30 percent improvement in passenger- and freight-rail reliability in the Chicago area. The program is supported by a total of $500 million from the state, $450 million from the federal government, $325 million from the rail industry and $30 million from the city of Chicago.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/30/2014