Metra announced on Wednesday, Sept. 12, that there will not be a fare increase in 2019. The commuter railroad will spend the year highlighting the need for more public aid and sounding the alarm about the system’s deterioration and possible downsizing if that aid does not materialize.
“We ask our passengers and our elected leaders to join with us to tell our story to members of the state legislature,” Metra Chairman Norm Carlson said. “That story is very simple: Metra needs a sustained capital program to maintain its existing service levels in the 2020s. Otherwise, drastic changes in service levels may be needed to shrink to a size that existing resources can sustain.”
In late 2014 Metra unveiled a $2.4 billion plan to modernize its rolling stock and install the federally mandated Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system.
That plan assumed that current state and federal funding sources would cover about $700 million and Metra financing would cover an additional $400 million. Metra hoped to secure $1.3 billion in new funding for the remainder – most likely from a new state infrastructure program.
The plan included projections for fare increases that would be needed over the next 10 years for financing and for the regular growth in operating expenses, but most of the fare increases approved since then have gone toward capital needs and PTC.
Metra board members agreed that another fare increase for capital needs would overburden customers after four straight fare increases while providing only a fraction of the revenue needed to address large capital funding shortfalls.
Metra still is working to modernize its rolling stock and pay for PTC. However, because the state has not passed a new infrastructure program since 2009 – and in fact reduced some of Metra’s $700 million in expected funding – its efforts have been slowed.
PTC installation remains on track, and by the end of this year Metra will have rehabbed about 145 cars and 42 locomotives since the plan was announced. However, it has not yet purchased any new cars and engines, and the purchases that are coming soon will be smaller than originally anticipated unless new funding comes through.