With three projects done and out of the way, they’re now planning for four newer projects. Two of them are new rail lines (STAR Line and the South East Service) and two of them are upgrades of presently-running lines (UP-Northwest and UP-West).
I’m not sure about the STAR Line. While we’re dealing with a couple of good ideas, right now it’s just two lines looking each other as their excuse to be built. While it’s supposed to be a bypass line, it only connects directly with three other rail lines (and a forth via an odd offset), and the connection to the airport doesn’t look like it really serves anything other than the expressway. Maybe if they extended the southern branch to Joliet proper (instead of leaving a forlorn tail just off I-55 north of Joliet) would the line start to make sense as a bypass. Further expansion (which was built into the planning process) also adds to the line and will probably insure that at least the EJE bypass section will be built. I could also see the I-90/O’Hare branch as a hookover towards the UP-Northwest’s McHenry branch, turning that into a full line instead of the stump it presently is.
The South East Service is interesting (especially as a relief valve for the Metra Electric), but I doubt it will be built. Proffered as a peace offering to the southern suburbs for the strangely mutated STAR Line and kept from going as far south as it should have (Beecher should have been included in the line), it’s too much a stump for Metra to be serious about. If this line gets built, I’ll be surprised.
The UP-Northwest is the busiest line in Metra. Even now, Metra wants to expand service on the line. They also want to build new train yards to replace some of the older stuff, and expand the line slightly to the north on the McHenry branch (while adding a rail yard and making the branch a full sister in the line).
The UP-West is interesting in that, even if not everything is done on this line, there’s stuff that can be done to improve service both on this line and on some others. The A2 crossing is slow, instable and needs plenty of effort during severe weather to keep working; moving the crossing to a closer spot (the new A1 crossing) would make for a more stable crossing, giving other northern lines better service as well and making space for other improvements. Indeed, were it not for the STAR Line (and credulous Southern Republicans wondering what happened to all that money they spent on the line already), I’m sure this line would get its whole needs funded for the upgrades.
My guess as to what Metra really wants to see happen:
- STAR Line “as is”
- Replace A2 crossing with A1 crossing on UP-West line, related improvements
- Other UP-West improvements
- UP-Northwest’s structure and line improvements
- The South East Service stub line
And what would I like to see happen?
- Work on the UP-West, with replacing the A2 as Job #1, other stuff should be done as they’re also worthy of doing.
- The South East Service given full service, along with other items along the Metra Electric to shift traffic over and make room for South Shore expansion.
- A modified STAR Line going from Joliet to the UP-Northwest line. Leave the O’Hare/I-90 stuff to the CTA (or figure a way of linking that section to the McHenry branch of the UP-Northwest line.
- UP-Northwest’s structure and line improvements; moving of and combining of rail yards is key here.
And that’s my two cents on Metra’s future plans.