Union Pacific hosted the chairmen of the DuPage, Kane and Lake county boards and several Metra officials aboard its executive train last week to discuss the future of western train lines.
The train departed early Friday morning from the Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago, riding along the nearly 44-mile UP West Line to Elburn.
Union Pacific officials said the meeting was more than just networking. It also provided them an opportunity to speak to some of their biggest stakeholders about the progress made during the large revamp of the western corridor the last several years and what they still hope to do.
"Obviously, there's been a lot of turnover on the Metra board, especially since the project started," said Wes Lujan, Union Pacific's local assistant vice president of public affairs. "We thought it was important to understand the investment that's happened to date."
Lujan said that 25 percent of all Union Pacific trains originate from, go through or end up in Chicago.
To reflect that use, he said, Metra and Union Pacific had already chipped in for about $60 million in improvements in the last five years as part of its $3.8 billion CREATE Program – a collaboration between the state, Chicago, Metra, Amtrack, the Association of American Railroads and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The program lists 70 projects in total, 20 of which are already finished.
That total includes several significant infrastructure investments around DuPage County aimed at ensuring that the 2,000 railcars – 60 passenger trains and 50 to 60 freight trains a day – could run efficiently, he said.
“That’s critical for untangling the passenger-freight operation in Chicago,” he said. “We’ve seen roughly a 30 percent reduction in delays to passenger trains … across the region, and this project coupled with those projects is going to create a huge synergy that’s going to benefit the region and, particularly, DuPage County.”
Most of the projects have been seemingly smaller in scale, including new pedestrian train warning systems, several new switches and other safety devices,
Some of the more major projects that have already affected DuPage County include a new crossing at Belmont Road in Downers Grove and the planning of an overpass construction project of Roosevelt Road in West Chicago, Lujan said.
Starting this year, Union Pacific also plans on changing a pedestrian crossing in Lombard into an underpass and building a new pedestrian bridge in Wheaton.
Union Pacific is also hoping to begin on a project that could install a third rail along parts of the route to "drastically reduce the chambering of freight in the area," Lujan said.
DuPage County Board President Dan Cronin called it a wonderful and informative meeting with one of the county's key partners that showed DuPage and the other collar counties were becoming a focus.
"The West Line is really, I think, the flagship of the UP system in terms of the traffic. ... It is a remarkable transportation corridor," he said. "I believe, I can see first hand, I know ... that DuPage County is a priority. This is an important community in the region, and we are being served and we will continue to make sure that we are served."
Cronin said that it was no surprise that Union Pacific and Metra focused on DuPage for improvements.
"If you think about where we are situated in DuPage County, just to the west of the city of Chicago, we really are the central location of this region," he said. "Really and truly DuPage County is perfectly situated."
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By the numbers
The Union Pacific and Metra's CREATE program includes 70 projects. For more information, visit creatprogram.org.
25: New roadway overpasses or underpasses
6: New rail overpasses or underpasses to separate passenger and freight train tracks
36: Freight rail projects including extensive upgrades of tracks, switches and signal systems