Metra to rebuild 22 bridges along UP North Line

August 29, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The project was put on hold nearly a year ago just weeks after it got under way when commuters complained about train scheduling problems due to the project.

Metra says it has come up with an improved plan to keep trains moving while it replaces crumbling bridges along the line.

Metra's effort at bridge replacement on the North Line last year was a swing-and-a-miss. It opted for what Metra execs thought was the most cost-effective plan, but it resulted in delays that North Line passengers didn't expect and didn't want to tolerate.

So, within the next two weeks, Metra will try again with a different approach.

Bridge underbellies are never very attractive. But what do we rightly expect from a bridge that was built around the time William Howard Taft was president?

The bridge at Montrose -- and 21 others like it -- on the Union Pacific Metra North Line are all around 100 years old. Metra says they are not structurally unsound, but they are not worth sinking a lot of money into either, so they are going be replaced.

Metra started the replacement effort last September but caught considerable grief from passengers because it tried to go to a single-track operation to accommodate the work, and that meant delays.

"It really limited the number of trains I had available to take," said Metra North Line rider Amy Boyle. "Not only that, I would get on a train finally, and it was standing room only."

So, in its second effort, Metra will do something different.

"The right of way used to have three tracks on it, so we're building a new third track roughly in the location of where the old third track used to be," said Metra's Mike Gillis.

That means about 4 miles of new track, which means that the elevated right of way needs to be shored up with support walls, which means that the project will cost millions more. But Metra has decided that is the best option to keep passengers on time while building new bridges.

The first phase will replace 11 bridges on the North Line from Grace to Balmoral, which is to be finished up in 2015. The second will replace the same number between Webster and Addison -- completion date 2019.

"In rush hour commuters shouldn't seen any construction related delays-- for midday, evening and weekends, there could be some delays," said Gillis.

"Inform people before they get on the train. Have updates on the internet. I think that's the best they should do," said Metra North Line rider Erin Smith.

That's what Metra says it intends to do.

The cost of the bridge replacement project is in the neighborhood of $240 million, much of it federal money that is part of Metra's capital budget.

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