No lease for Union Station? Trains will keep running, Metra and Amtrak say
A disagreement between Metra and its Union Station landlord, Amtrak, over a lease renewal won't trickle down to commuters, the railroads said.
Instead, officials from both sides hope the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which regulates railroads, will act as mediator on an impasse over what Metra should pay Amtrak for use of the Chicago commuter hub.
The lease expires Monday but if nothing's resolved "customers won't notice anything," Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said Thursday.
"In the meantime, there will be no interruption of service," Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.
Under the current lease, Metra pays nearly $9.7 million annually for use of the historic station that handles 45 percent of its passengers. About 55,000 riders pass through Union Station every weekday.
At the heart of the stalemate is Metra wants to pay less in operating rent and Amtrak wants the commuter railroad to contribute more. Also at issue is how much Metra should fund Amtrak's capital program to improve Union Station.
"Basically we are not in agreement on the cost and value of our access to Union Station," Gillis said.
"They are offering us less in operating than they are paying now," Magliari said. The transportation board is "the place for resolving these kinds of business disputes," he added.
"Metra is seeking the best deal for its customers and for the taxpayers of Northeastern Illinois," Gillis said. "We agree that requesting the involvement of the Surface Transportation Board at this juncture is appropriate and we look forward to making our case there."
Problems with overcrowding inside the terminal and train delays related to Amtrak mechanical or technical issues in the last year have frustrated Metra passengers.
This April, leaders from both railroads were called to account before a panel led by U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski of Western Springs, a member of the House Transportation Committee.
Despite the lease issue, both entities will keep moving trains through Union Station, Magliari said. "We jointly work together operationally every day and that will continue too," he said.