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updated: 5/16/2014 5:26 PM

Metra to use federal, state funds to speed up service

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  • Metra hopes new heating equipment will move trains more reliably in the next polar vortex.

    Metra hopes new heating equipment will move trains more reliably in the next polar vortex.
    Daily Herald File Photo


A Metra windfall of about $11 million in federal and state funds should help reduce freight train congestion and address delays related to winter conditions.

The agency will receive $7.7 million from the state and $3.3 million in federal aid, planners said at a Friday board meeting.

The lion's share of the state funding is intended to build more crossovers and signaling at a busy section of tracks in Franklin Park, as part of a regional program to decrease freight train traffic. A crossover is a "pair of switches that connects two parallel rail tracks," allowing trains to cross over from one to the other, officials explained.

Three rail lines converge at the site -- the Canadian National Railroad, the smaller Indiana Harbor Belt and Metra's Milwaukee District West Line, which is shared with the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The improvements should allow trains to shift tracks quickly and move freight faster, reducing delays for Metra and at grade crossings.

"It gives Metra a lot more options with the crossovers," Acting Deputy Executive Director Peter Zwolfer said.

The additional funding also has allowed Metra to spend $1.5 million for equipment winterization that includes buying more switch heaters. During the polar vortexes of January, multiple trains were canceled or delayed with one of the main culprits being failed switches.

The switch heaters will be installed at some of Metra's major yards, where rail cars are housed and repaired.

However, Executive Director Don Orseno noted that the devices aren't all-powerful along the tracks during storms. "Switch heaters will not melt chunks of ice," he said, referring to when switches are blocked by ice that trains deposit.

In another delay-related move, Metra is apologizing to riders for delays caused by track repairs on the BNSF Line this spring. The railroad is replacing about 20,000 rail ties between Hinsdale and Chicago.

Work should be accomplished by the end of May, officials said.

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