by Dennis Sullivan
April 1, 2014
A nearly 20-year effort to establish commuter rail service from the LaSalle Street Metra Station southeast to Balmoral Racing Park may be out of steam, according to a mayor involved in the effort.
“Significant roadblocks have been thrown up recently that have caused me to wonder if this is going to happen,” Crete’s Mike Einhorn said today.
The Southeast Commuter Rail Transit District, a collective transportation effort by Dolton, South Holland, Thornton, Glenwood, Chicago Heights, South Chicago Heights, Steger and Crete, has sought to establish the 33.2-mile commuter line using four railroad rights-of-way:
- Joint Union Pacific/CSX Transportation freight corridor from Balmoral Park to Dolton Junction,
- Union Pacific (UP) from Dolton Junction to Oakdale Junction,
- Chicago Rail Link (CRL) from Oakdale Junction to Gresham Interlocking and
- Metra Rock Island District (RID) from Gresham Interlocking to LaSalle Street Station.
Einhorn, reporting on the district’s March 19 meeting, told Village Trustee Dan Taylor that freight-train activity has increased to the point that there would be little or no opportunity for commuter service.
The Times of Northwest Indiana, which covered that meeting, reported a $340,000 grant would help pay for preliminary engineering studies.
‘Window of opportunity’
“We had this window of opportunity about 15 years ago,” Einhorn said during the March 24 gathering of Crete’s elected and appointed officials.
“Metra (Chairman Jeffrey Ladd) told us it was not a social welfare agency, pushed this to the back burner and never addressed it in a timely fashion,” he said.
Although Ladd retired in 2006, Metra appears to have continued his north and northwest orientation. Einhorn said the agency’s “wish list” now focuses on extending five-to-six west, northwest and north suburban commuter lines “as much as 80 miles from downtown.”
“I’ve gotta believe there’d be a lot of use for a train coming to Crete,” Taylor said.
Einhorn agreed, saying Metra has projected ridership in 2030 at “18,700 a day for this line.” That, he said, is 700 more riders than all of the riders on the four lines that are being extended.
The station issue
Einhorn also referred to a requirement established in 1995 by Metra that the southeastern municipalities buy the sites of the 10 new stations and fund construction of the stations and parking lots. Metra traditionally has covered the cost of a basic station, like the one in Manhattan, Ill.
“Not having any money is really problematic,” he said. “No other Metra line has had to come up with its own money.
Village Administrator Tom Durkin said the district has $694,000 in its budget “of which, $632,000 is grant dollars.” The remaining $62,000 represents previous donations by participating local communities, Durkin said, noting “in-kind” contributions include use of the Lansing Airport for meetings.
Einhorn said the Metra board included South Suburban Mayors & Managers Association Executive Director Ed Paesel, South Holland Mayor Don DeGraff and New Lenox Mayor Mike Smith, but proponents for the new commuter rail line couldn’t get “any kind of traction.”
“It’s very disheartening,” Einhorn said. “You can’t help but feel there’s some kind of bias.”
Original material copyright 2014 Eastern Will County News; all rights reserved.
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