Metra wants feds to intervene in spat with Union Pacific
Metra is asking federal regulators to intervene in a dispute with Union Pacific Railroad over operating commuter trains that carry up to 45,000 riders.
Freight railroad Union Pacific currently runs commuter trains between Chicago and the suburbs as part of an agreement with Metra, but that pact expires at the end of August.
UP wants to hand over the reins, arguing that nowhere else in the U.S. do its employees operate passenger trains.
Not so fast, say Metra executives, who contend that UP is legally obligated to provide commuter service.
Metra also is concerned UP plans to pull the plug on ticket agents and maintaining cars and locomotives.
Union Pacific filed a federal lawsuit in December asking the courts to rule on the dispute.
But Metra on Tuesday asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which has authority over railroads, to intervene.
"Metra and Union Pacific have had a longstanding, cooperative working relationship and our intention is to continue to maintain this relationship going forward," Metra Executive Director Jim Derwinski said.
"These filings are an effort by Metra to maintain the status quo on the UP North, Northwest and West lines while at the same time attempting to resolve critical points of disagreement between us."
UP officials said "we desire a mutually beneficial service agreement with Metra, allowing Metra to do what it does best - provide commuter rail service - and Union Pacific to deliver the goods Americans use every day. Union Pacific does not use its own employees to operate or maintain passenger operations anywhere in the 23 states where we operate, except for the service we provide Metra."
Another area of friction is the expense involved in re-arranging the pact, although those figures have not been disclosed.
Metra warned that UP has said that if the STB doesn't take its case -- and a federal judge determines it has no legal obligation to provide commuter service -- the railroad "intends to discontinue service 90 days after that decision."
UP leaders countered that "Chicago commuters receive safe, reliable service on the UP North, Northwest and West lines. This will not change. We have been clear with Metra that commuter trains will continue to run on these lines and service will not be degraded or halted."
Regardless of any decision, UP would still own the tracks carrying passengers on all three lines.