LOMBARD – A pedestrian tunnel to be constructed this year at the Lombard Metra Station will link the train station to the village’s downtown and Lilacia Park.
“It’s going to be a much safer rail crossing,” Metra CEO Don Orseno said. “It’s huge for us and it’s huge for this community.”
Orseno was the guest speaker Wednesday afternoon at the Lombard Area Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s monthly lunch meeting. Speaking to about three dozen audience members, including Lombard officials and members of the local business community, Orseno said the 10-month project will cost just shy of $10 million, with construction slated to begin in late May after Lilac Time.
“It’s going to be a huge investment,” Orseno said during the event at Harry Caray’s Ballroom inside The Westin Lombard Yorktown Center hotel.
The trains won’t stop, but the project will cause its share of construction headaches for commuters and residents living nearby, Lombard’s village manager Scott Niehaus said, adding that the village will keep in constant contact with village residents as the project begins.
“Long term, what you’re going to have is a pedestrian walkway that connects downtown Lombard to Lilacia Park, to the library without having to walk around on Main Street,” Niehaus said.
The village will contribute $300,000 for lights, cameras and other aesthetics, Niehaus said.
The project was supposed to begin last year, but a lack of funding from Metra pushed the time frame, Lombard Village trustee Dan Whittington said.
“It’s going to enhance the entire downtown feel,” Whittington said.
More Metra issues
Orseno touched on Metra’s regional goals for 2014 and challenged the crowd to work with Metra to help solicit additional capital funding.
“I’m asking you to work with us,” he said. “When you talk to your legislators and other people that make decisions with funding and financing, be partners with us. Let them know how important transportation is to the communities and businesses.”
The winter weather has exposed weaknesses in train cars, some between 30 and 60 years old. Each new car costs about $3 million, and Metra also needs additional spare cars to supplement those undergoing maintenance, Orseno said.
Orseno, who was unanimously appointed CEO by the Metra board in January, acknowledged Metra’s deficiencies during the past few years, including the ousting of his predecessor, Alex Clifford, and the 2010 suicide of former chief executive Phil Pagano. Orseno, a Chicago-area native, previously served as Metra’s interim chief when Clifford accepted a severance deal.
“There’s no question the last three years we’ve had some challenges,” Orseno said. “What we’ve managed to do is not put us in the best position with our partners and our customers.”
Moving forward, Metra is focused on rebuilding trust with customers, legislators and “just about everybody,” Orseno said.
To better communicate with customers, Metra is currently working to upgrade its website, which will feature real-time information including route delays and track issues. This year, Metra will roll out a mobile ticketing system so commuters can buy tickets using their smartphones.
“Everyone is migrating to smartphones,” Orseno said, who has been in the railroad industry for 40 years.
Orseno also addressed the frequent delays stemming from high wind warnings this winter. Metra has installed anemometers, devices used for measuring wind speed, to monitor the routes.
“We should see a lot of those delays go away,” Orseno said. “We want to make sure our customers can go from Point A to Point B without being delayed.”
Along with purchasing additional cars and addressing safety and technological issues, Metra needs additional money to further build the system out, Orseno said.
“We have got to start thinking today about our future,” he said.