Metra takeover of UP service is coming down the track

A familiar brand will be operating Metra Union Pacific trains next year after the freight giant steps away.

That would be Metra, after the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals judges ruled Wednesday that Union Pacific is not obligated to keep running commuter trains on the three UP lines.

The decision appears to be the capper on a dispute that arose in 2019 and involved lengthy court battles, plus the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

Riders on the busy UP North, Northwest and West lines, however, should not notice significant changes.

"We are already working on transitioning the three UP lines to Metra," Communications Director Michael Gillis said Thursday. "We've hired some UP managers, and we hope to begin taking over some operations by the end of the year."

Metra had no specific comments on the ruling or the possibility of an appeal.

Meanwhile, "we're pleased with the court's decision, and we continue to work with Metra to execute a smooth transfer of services," UP Senior Communications Director Kristen South said.

Appeals court judges delved into previous laws and contracts regarding the obligations of railroads as "common carriers" and whether they could "abandon" service.

Ultimately, they agreed that "Union Pacific is not bound by any contractual promise to keep providing rail services to Metra for the indefinite future."

UP representatives have said that handing the reins to Metra would allow the freight railroad "to focus on moving customers' goods in and out of Chicago and across the nation."

The contract between Metra and UP ended in February 2020.

Earlier this year, Union Pacific predicted the transfer could be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2024.

Responsibilities Metra would inherit include train crews, mechanical upkeep, car cleaning, and railcar and locomotive maintenance. UP would continue maintaining the track and managing train movements.

The BNSF line is Metra's busiest, followed by the UP Northwest, UP North, Metra Electric and UP West, Regional Transportation Authority records for May show.

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