Metra Asks Feds to Resolve UP Dispute

A Metra locomotive in Chicago. Photo by Justin Franz.

Metra Asks Feds to Resolve UP Dispute

By Railfan & Railroad Staff

CHICAGO — Metra is asking the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to resolve an ongoing dispute with Union Pacific, which operates three of the agency’s commuter lines out of Chicago. 

Late last year, UP sued Metra in an effort to get out of operating commuter trains in the Chicago area. UP currently operates commuter trains for Metra on three lines, the North Line to Kenosha, Wis., the West Line to Elburn, Ill., and the Northwest Line to McHenry and Harvard, Ill. The freight railroad absorbed the operations when it took over the Chicago & North Western back in 1995 and is paid approximately $100 million annually to do so. 

In 2019, UP and Metra began to negotiate a new contract for the service but then UP filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging that it was not obligated to do so. The commuter railroad has said in court documents that UP is trying to “gain leverage” in negotiations and that if the freight railroad had a legitimate issue it would go to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board. This week, Metra did just that. On Tuesday, it asked the STB to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent UP from suspending service later this year.

“Metra and Union Pacific have had a longstanding, cooperative working relationship and our intention is to continue to maintain this relationship going forward,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “These filings are an effort by Metra to maintain the status quo on the UP North, Northwest and West lines while at the same time attempting to resolve critical points of disagreement between us.”

Union Pacific owns the three UP lines in the Metra system, including the rights-of-way, tracks, yards and most stations and parking lots, and has historically operated them with its own crews under a contract with Metra known as a purchase-of-service agreement (PSA). UP now wants to turn over operation of the commuter service to Metra, which involves complex issues regarding finances, labor unions, real estate, maintenance and other areas. The two sides have been negotiating a new arrangement for nearly a year but remain far apart.

This article was posted on: July 23, 2020