Discussion related to commuter rail and rapid transit operations in the Chicago area including the South Shore Line, Metra Rail, and Chicago Transit Authority.

Moderators: metraRI, JamesT4

  by doepack
 
Not that they've expressed a desire to do so, and certainly in today's climate, it does fly in the face of conventional wisdom. But should the day come that either one (or both) actually pursued this seriously, could they provide the same current level of service that exists today via the contract with Metra, if they were so willing? Initially, all it would take is for them to purchase the equipment currently leased from Metra outright, and to take over the maintenance of the stations and parking lots (although many of the larger, outer-ring suburbs already perform this function). Repaint the locomotives in BNSF or UP colors, slap the appropriate logo on those stainless steel bilevels, perhaps repaint the station signs in a like manner, and off you go...

OTOH, reality paints a different picture, because it probably wouldn't be that simple. For one thing, they would lose Metra's compensation that covers their losses providing the service. And even though freight revenues are up, it's questionable as to whether enough of it could be used to subsidize the service, in lieu of Metra's current compensation. In the end, current economics would probably prevent this from happening, but at least the Chicago commuter rail scene would become a little more colorful, which, at least for us railfans, wouldn't be such a bad thing...

  by byte
 
I have a feeling BNSF could manage it, but have doubts on the UP's ability. Overall it seems like the former gives a higher priority to the commuter operations than the latter does (which, at times, seems to view the three Metra lines as the red-headed stepchild they inherited upon absorbing the C&NW).

This topic is interesting though, and brings up another question: If the RTA and Metra were dissolved right now, how many of the host railroads (obviously excluding the lines Metra owns, unless Iowa Interstate has the necessary crews to run the RI and MED...) would continue service if the Metra equipment was turned over to them? I think BNSF would do it, and UP would be dragged kicking and screaming into operating its lines, but would do so eventually. CN wouldn't even notice the absence of the Heritage Corridor trains. NS would likely shelve the SWS. CP seems like they might cooperate on the MILW lines to keep those running. Dunno about the NCS - if it were still under WC ownership, I'd wager they'd keep the trains running, but under CN I'm not sure.

  by metrarider
 
I think a big issue would be insurance against damage awards for passenger injury/death

currently AFAIK, METRA holds them harmless (except possibly in cases of gross negligence on the part of the host road). Were they to operate upon themselves they would have to get the state to indemnify them or fund their own (very expensive) insurance for this. Since awards in cook county in particular have been known to be very high, this would represent a significant roadblock to the roads taking things on themselves.

and since metra farebox recovery ratio is about 55%, you'd see them requiring funding from the state or face severe cutbacks and fare increases or some combination of the above.

  by doepack
 
metrarider wrote:Were they to operate upon themselves they would have to get the state to indemnify them or fund their own (very expensive) insurance for this. Since awards in cook county in particular have been known to be very high, this would represent a significant roadblock to the roads taking things on themselves
Good point, although I think the extra insurance cost could be mitigated somewhat if they partnered with IDOT, who could conceivably act as an agent on their behalf. Otherwise, I'm sure Springfield politicians would make them pay through the nose...
metrarider wrote:and since metra farebox recovery ratio is about 55%, you'd see them requiring funding from the state or face severe cutbacks and fare increases or some combination of the above.
Operating expenses compose the other half of the farebox recovery ratio equation, and these costs are already assumed by the host roads in exchange for running commuter rail service on Metra's behalf. The best solution would be for Metra to give up at least a portion of the money that they currently use to cover UP/BNSF's expenses, then Springfield could just reallocate the funds to UP/BNSF in the event of a full takeover. Easier said than done, I'm sure, but as long as the recovery ratio stays at or above 55%, no funding increase would be needed...

  by asc99yhs
 
I know during the 70's and early 80's the BN was running suburban service with just a subsidy from the RTA. The service was good, but there were underlying problems.

Poor fixed facilities- Depots were not in good repair, parking lots were gravel. You can tell this right away by looking at the Belmont Rd and Stone Ave stations. Both are still owned by BNSF and both are not in good repair.

Old equipment- I doubt there would be any new ADA cars and those E9's would still be out there. They were getting pretty ratty when they were retired.

  by Wanderer
 
I believe that operations wise, BNSF could pull it off. I don't really think they would have many issues schedule wise, dispatching, nor maintaining equipment. However, they are indeed a Class 1 railroad. It would be likely that some elements could be overlooked, such as stations, reasonable fares, and the like. That, however, is where Metra consistently does it's part with government subsidies, and the ability to aid in correcting oversight.

Now Union Pacific. I don't think there are many positive things I could say about them running a fully independant commuter operation. That is of course, assuming there is anything positive to say. However, if as a class one railroad, 25 produce cars traveling Seattle to New York, are misrouted all the way South to Los Angeles before anyone notices...I'd rather not depend on you to get me home at night.

  by MetraBNSF
 
When UP absorbed the CNW in 1995, I remember hearing about lots of problems on their lines that they run for Metra. Two things that stood out at the time was poor communication and an OTR around 90%. I think that freight train interference largely contributed to the OTR, but am trying to figure out why there were so many problems at the time.

  by qboy
 
Wanderer wrote:I believe that operations wise, BNSF could pull it off. I don't really think they would have many issues schedule wise, dispatching, nor maintaining equipment. However, they are indeed a Class 1 railroad. It would be likely that some elements could be overlooked, such as stations, reasonable fares, and the like. That, however, is where Metra consistently does it's part with government subsidies, and the ability to aid in correcting oversight.

Now Union Pacific. I don't think there are many positive things I could say about them running a fully independant commuter operation. That is of course, assuming there is anything positive to say. However, if as a class one railroad, 25 produce cars traveling Seattle to New York, are misrouted all the way South to Los Angeles before anyone notices...I'd rather not depend on you to get me home at night.
I'm sure BNSF/NS/CSX/CP/CN and any other big railroad never misplaced cars either. Please all these railroads have daily missing cars list of cars they can't locate or end up at the wrong location. Neverless its pathetic they end in wrong time zone, and state. Until some Improvements in capacity and additions of control points on the west line OTR will hover around 90-92%. The other 2 UP lines speak for themselves.

  by doepack
 
MetraBNSF wrote:When UP absorbed the CNW in 1995, I remember hearing about lots of problems on their lines that they run for Metra. Two things that stood out at the time was poor communication and an OTR around 90%. I think that freight train interference largely contributed to the OTR, but am trying to figure out why there were so many problems at the time.
Back then, the main problem was that on the Geneva sub, UP didn't adjust well initially to balancing Metra service against increased freight traffic within the physical plant limitations, and moving the dispatchers to Omaha certainly didn't help matters either, at least in the beginning. Despite recent improvements, the fact that the OTP of this route still ranks dead last among Metra lines continues to indicate that the problem hasn't been completely solved, and likely won't be until the capacity restrictions are addressed in Metra's UP/W expansion proposal, which is still awaiting federal funds...
asc99yhs wrote:Old equipment- I doubt there would be any new ADA cars and those E9's would still be out there. They were getting pretty ratty when they were retired.
Even if BNSF were operating totally independent of Metra, they would've still been required by law (as of 1995) to provide at least one handicapped accessible car on all of its trains...

  by doepack
 
And in an attempt to bring this back on topic...

Metrarider pointed out Metra's 55% farebox recovery ratio, and that is indeed the magic number that both UP and BNSF should strive toward in the event of operating the commuter services independently, as I stated earlier. Falling below this figure would require additional federal and/or state funding which would have to go toward operating expenses. But, unlike BNSF, UP would also need capital funds for capacity enhancement in order to upgrade the Geneva sub's physical plant in manner comparable to BNSF, and, if Metra's studies are to be believed, this would actually result in a eventual reduction of current operating expenses, which would ensure the operating ratio doesn't drop below 55%; it may even increase, especially if the OTP improves. Current reputation and history aside, this necessary investment in UP's physcial plant is the biggest reason why BNSF would be better equipped to handle Chicago's commuter trains right now without Metra's help.

It's also interesting that, looking over the responses in this thread, one can discern the inherent differences between a takeover (UP) and a merger (BN+SF). As such, it's no surprise that both conditions have caused each railroad to utilizie radically different approaches to their current operating philosphies regarding Chicago commuter operations, and is likely a main reason why Metra currently enjoys a better relationship with BNSF these days...