Metra tries to put a price on riders' priorities
With riders seeking improvements on every rail line, Metra board members Wednesday hired consultants to put hard numbers on the ideas on a growing wish list.
Aecom Technical Services of Chicago will be paid $707,227 to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for Metra's strategic plan.
In addition to pricing various projects, consultants will estimate potential ridership and analyze fares, market demand and parking needs.
Chairman Martin Oberman said he frequently meets riders who ask about line extensions, new stations and what happened to the STAR Line, a multibillion rail expansion meant to link O'Hare with the northwest, west and south suburbs.
"What we don't have and haven't had for decades is any kind of an effort to have a systematic cost-benefit analysis," Oberman said. "If we extend the service to this town -- what will it cost? What will ridership be as compared to extending service over there or building another station? "It's impossible to make an intelligent business decision" without data, he added.
Metra's official list of projects includes possible expansions on the Union Pacific Northwest, Metra Electric District, Milwaukee District North and Milwaukee District West lines, as well as improvements to the North Central Service, which has no weekend trains.
"All of these are expensive projects we don't have the money for," Oberman said.
The agency raised fares in February to cover increasing operating costs and borrow money to buy new locomotives and train cars.
But other capital needs, such as adding more train service or extending lines, would cost billions the agency doesn't have.
One project on the back burner for years has been extending the BNSF Line west into Kendall County with stops in Oswego and Yorkville.
Oberman said extensions to Kendall County, which is outside the six-county area that funds transit with a regional sales tax, are "unlikely to happen."
The strategic plan has been years in the making. Metra held 18 public meetings on it in 2012 but the exit of the agency's CEO and chairman in 2013 slowed the effort.
Aecom's fees will be paid with federal grant funding.