UP sues Metra over commuter operations

Details sealed by court, but UP makes it clear it wants to end operating responsibilities
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A Metra UP West train arrives in West Chicago, Ill., in March 2018. UP has sued Metra over its contract to operate commuter trains on three routes.
TRAINS: David Lassen

CHICAGO — Union Pacific’s desire to get out of the business of operating Metra commuter trains has landed in federal court.

Crain’s Chicago Business reports that UP filed suit earlier this week. The exact nature of the dispute is unknown, since the filing is sealed at UP’s request, and neither side provided details in response to media inquiries. Both sides, however, said the suit posed no threat to continuing service on the three Metra lines currently operated by Union Pacific.

Metra CEO Jim Derwinski had previously informed Metra employees that negotiations were in progress for a new agreement that could result in Metra taking over many of the responsibilities that currently belong to Union Pacific under its purchase-of-service agreement. [See “Metra, Union Pacific in talks that could change operating agreement,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 5, 2019.]

UP’s current agreement to operate three Metra lines is about to expire, and a UP statement said it is seeking an agreement “that gives Metra direct responsibility for operating its commuter lines through a services transfer. This will allow Union Pacific to focus on moving customers’ goods in and out of Chicago and across the nation.” The statement said “there are fundamental principles that we believe require the help of a court to resolve.”

Metra spokesman Michael Gillis told the suburban Daily Herald that the case will not impact train service, “but it has a bearing on negotiations between Metra and UP over how service will continue on the lines and what it will cost after the current agreement between Metra and UP expires.” He said Metra has an obligation to protect “the interests of our customers and the taxpayers of northeastern Illinois and the entire state.”

A Kenosha-bound train on Metra's UP North line arrives at Winthrop Harbor, Ill., in April 2019. The first car is a privately owned, members-only commuter coach painted in the colors of previous line owner Chicago & North Western. In 2018, the three Union Pacific lines ranked second, third, and fourth in Metra ridership.
TRAINS: David Lassen

The three Metra lines involved are:

— The UP Northwest, a 62.8-mile, 22-station line to Harvard in McHenry County, on UP’s Harvard Subdivision, which sees 65 Metra trains on weekdays; six of those serve a 7.6-mile spur to a station in McHenry, Ill. In 2018, it was second among Metra’s 11 lines in ridership with 10.6 million trips. (The BNSF line was first with 15.8 million.)

— The UP North, a 51.6-mile, 24-station route on UP’s Kenosha Subdivision to Kenosha, Wis. — the only Metra station not in Illinois — although most trains begin and end at Waukegan, Ill., 36 miles from downtown. Like the Northwest line, it only sees limited freight activity. Served by 70 trains on weekdays; in 2018, it was third in Metra ridership with 8.7 million trips.

— The UP West, a 44-mile, 19-station route to Elburn in Kane County which sees 59 Metra trains each weekday. It operates on UP’s Geneva Subdivision, the railroad’s main east-west main line for freight traffic; the portion also used by Metra is triple track except for a 6.1-mile segment on either side of Geneva, Ill. Its 8.1 million trips in 2018 ranked fourth in Metra ridership.

All three are former Chicago & North Western routes inherited by UP in its 1995 acquisition of the C&NW.

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