Boost Metra's clout and funding, CEO asks Congress
Metra's 280,000 daily riders deserve to be on an equal footing with freight trains and Amtrak, the agency's CEO testified to a congressional committee Tuesday.
Transit passengers across the nation currently play second fiddle to the other entities, Metra chief Jim Derwinski told members of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.
That's especially true in the Chicago region, one of the busiest freight hubs in the nation, Derwinski said.
"The public convenience and necessity of moving people and passenger trains can create friction with our freight rail partners and Amtrak, particularly in high-density areas," he said.
Commuter rail agencies provided about 490 million passenger trips in 2018 compared to 32 million by Amtrak, Derwinski said.
Perhaps it's time "to reconsider commuter rail's legislative standing ... in the terms of public convenience and necessity of people versus the considerations of public convenience and necessity for freight railroads," he said.
Derwinski also asked for more transparency regarding Amtrak operations and asked the government to "level the playing field."
His request comes after overcrowding inside Union Station and train delays related to Amtrak mechanical or technical issues in the last year have enraged Metra customers. The meltdowns also have prompted scrutiny from Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski of Western Springs, who chairs the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.
"We need our commuter railroads to be consistently reliable to meet the needs of commuters in my district and across the country who rely on this service as a primary source of transportation," Lipinski said.
Metra and other commuter railroads also made a pitch for an influx of billions to fix bridges, expand service and finish installing an automatic braking system called Positive Train Control.
Operating and maintaining Positive Train Control is expected to cost about $15 million to $20 million a year, "with no current federal financial assistance available," Derwinski said. He noted that Metra would complete PTC installation in 2020 to meet a federal deadline.