Feds want to figure out why your Metra ride keeps getting delayed (June 13, 2019)

Crain's Chicago Business

Federal regulators for the first time would get involved in a longtime hot transportation issue here—the disruption of street and commuter rail traffic by slow-moving freight trains—under legislation in Congress that has a decent chance of passing.

The proposed language from Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago, would direct the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to review on-time performance data and work with the carriers, Amtrak and other stakeholders to resolve problems.

A related clause would require FRA nationally to work to reduce the number of times road traffic is held up to allow a freight train to clear the tracks. FRA reportedly has received more than 1,000 formal complaints in recent years, some of them likely coming from areas in suburban Chicago which have not yet benefited from the Create program to build bridges and underpasses to avoid traffic woes.

Lipinski tucked the provisions into a pending transportation and urban development appropriations bill in his capacity as chairman of a subcommittee that reviews railroad matters. Given the feuding between congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump, there's no guarantee normal appropriations bills will pass this session. But adding it at this point is the first step in the process.

In a statement, Lipinski called the action "good news for commuters in our region. . . .This is a unique, targeted request that has the potential of making the daily commutes of Metra riders in particular more reliable."

Metra, in a separate statement, made it clear it hopes the proposal has legs. Metra and commuter railroads for years have battled over why delays persist and whose responsibility it is to fix them.

"As the legislation notes, the Chicago railroad infrastructure is complex and congested, and the interaction between freight trains must be carefully coordinated," it said. "We would welcome a review by the FRA and would be receptive to any suggested changes and any financial assistance to implement them."

A vote by the full House is pending.