Metra sues Union Pacific, wants conductors back walking trains
Metra and Union Pacific Railroad are on a collision course, with the commuter agency asking the courts to order the freight giant to have conductors resume collecting fares, walking through trains and selling tickets.
Metra filed a lawsuit in Cook County court Wednesday, claiming UP has breached its contract by acting capriciously and has damaged Metra's bottom line and reputation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We strongly disagree with how Union Pacific Railroad has been operating commuter service," Metra Executive Director Jim Derwinski said in a statement. "We have given UP management numerous opportunities to provide the necessary level of service as on our other lines, but they have refused to address these issues in any meaningful way and have left us no recourse but to seek relief through the courts."
But Union Pacific "is unwilling to put fare collection ahead of employee and commuter health and safety during a global pandemic, and we are prepared to vigorously defend ourselves in court," Senior Director of Corporate Communications Kristen South said.
"We want Chicago commuters to feel safe and confident as they return to riding trains, and our employees must feel the same," South added, noting two UP ticket agents have died during the pandemic.
Union Pacific operates the North, Northwest and West lines on Metra, the second-busiest service next to the BNSF.
UP is seeking to extricate itself from operating Metra trains, but Metra contends federal law requires the freight hauler to stay in place. The dispute has ended up in federal court.
Metra's contract with Union Pacific expires Dec. 31.
Union Pacific leaders said its conductors are on hand when passengers board and exit trains, to operate doors and help riders with disabilities. They contend Metra police should handle safety issues.
Union Pacific workers did recently begin checking fares at Ogilvie Transportation Center.
Metra, UP and BNSF suspended collecting fares during Illinois' stay-at-home order in mid-March. But in June, BNSF and Metra conductors resumed collecting fares and walking cars while UP abstained.
UP's actions cost Metra about $1 million a month.
Typically, Metra trains have two or three conductors at rush hour.