Metra fare hikes come with $2.4B, 10-year capital plan proposal

Thursday, October 9, 2014
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Metra fare hikes come with a $2.4 billion, 10-year capital plan proposal for new rail cars and locomotives.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- After years of patchwork plans to keep antiquated cars rolling, Metra officials announced Thursday a $2.4 billion plan to overhaul the "rolling stock." Highlights include 367 new Highliner train cars, 52 new locomotives and the federally-mandated Positive Train Control, a GPS-based operational system with real-time track information.

"I stand behind this plan. I think it is a great plan. It's not perfect, but I think it's the best we can do at this time," Don DeGraff, Metra Board member, said.

With those improvements come fare hikes- one each year for the next decade. The first fare hike, which would start on February 1, 2015, will fall between 10.8 and 18.2 -percent, depending on the zone. The proposed increases that follow vary, and are considered just an outline:

2015: 10.8 to 18.2 percent, depending on the zone

2016: 5.0 percent

2017: 4.0 percent

2019: 7.75 percent

2020: 3 percent

2021: 3 percent

2022: 5.7 percent

2023: 3 percent

2024: 3 percent

Currently, a single, one-way ticket for traveling 20 to 25 miles costs $5.25. If approved, that ticket will cost $6 next year; $7.50 in 2019; and $9 by 2024. A monthly pass for the same trip is about $150 now, would be $171 in 2015; $214 in 2019; and $257 by 2024.

"If they have to increase the fares, so be it," Sandy Risden, Metra rider, said. "But I think they should concentrate on their switching problems. Because that seems to be more of the problem than anything."

"If they're going to raise our regular fare, for what? For better equipment? I don't think that will solve their problem," Rich Centeno said.

"What I really expect, is that most people will say whether they like it or not, at least this Metra board is telling us the truth," Metra Board Chairman Martin Oberman said.

The rest of the cost will come from federal and state funding, as well as Metra financing.

$2.1B for train cars, locomotives; $400M on PTC

Metra officials said the overhaul is necessary to keep the rail system going, and, in the end, will cost less than the current maintenance.

"If we do not do this, the ride is going to go in the opposite direction. There are going to be more outages, less reliable services," Oberman said.

Under the 10-year plan, $2.4 billion 'rolling stock improvements' include rehabbing and replacing train cars and locomotives and updating the 49th Street yard. Metra will purchase 367 new Highliner train cars to replace 318 cars that an average age of 43 years; another 455 cars will be rehabbed. Fifty-two locomotives will be purchases and 85 others will be rehabilitated.

"Folks may love nostalgia, but it makes a powerful statement when our oldest cars date from the Eisenhower administration," Oberman said in a statement. Oberman went on to say that compared to other major cities, Metra's fares are significantly lower.

Deferring capital projects has "far-reaching consequences," Metra said in its outline. "As components degrade, service reliability suffers. A single breakdown can affect multiple lines."

When service suffers, the riders find alternative routes to get where they need to go, Metra said.

Also included in the plan is $400 million for the federally-mandated, safety-system Positive Train Control (PTC). PTC ensures compliance with speed limits and offers Metra crews real-time track condition, switch alignment and signal information.

Metra will hold a series of public hearings before the board votes on a final budget in November.