U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   04/07/2003
 
Phil Pagano
Executive Director
Metra, Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter
Railroad Corporation

TEA-21 Reauthorization

Good morning, I’m Phil Pagano, Executive Director of Metra. I’m grateful for this opportunity. I’m always eager to talk about Metra’s role in the mobility of northeastern Illinois. I’m especially eager to talk about what we need in order to play our role even better in the future.

Before I go into details about the federal transportation legislation, let me first review our current status. Metra is a true regional passenger railroad. We connect a dynamic, urban core with a fast-growing ring of communities. I am proud to say that we are recognized as the premier commuter rail system in the United States.

In terms of ridership, Metra is the second largest commuter railroad in the United’ States. Last year, more than 80 million commuters rode Metra.

In terms of network, Metra is the largest commuter railroad. We operate 11 lines within a service territory of 546 route miles in a traditional hub and spoke pattern focusing on the Chicago Central business district. We own and directly operate four of those lines. We contract with two major freight railroads for service on four other lines. And through trackage agreements, we directly provide service on three more lines.

We operate this network with an industry-leading on-time performance record, averaging 96 percent last year.

Since 1970, the number of metropolitan areas served by commuter rail systems has increased from 11 to 18, with many more cities creating or considering commuter frail systems. This success in growth can be attributed to a number of factors, including the existence of rail rights-of-way, and the need for communities to alleviate traffic congestion, reduce air pollution, and provide reliable transportation alternatives for a growing number of commuters. All of this can be accomplished by commuter raill.

One central issue currently facing the commuter and rail industry in general is the subject of grade separations. It’s a topic that I’d like to expand on here.

Metra has been a leading advocate in the region for an aggressive grade separation program. In fact, we’ve identified 225 grade crossings that would be key in enhancing the mutual flow of traffic and productivity of operations for commuter rail and freight operations. These targeted grade separation projects are critical for the communities we serve. So much of our territory is experiencing growth. That growth inherently delivers more traffic on the busy roads that cross our system.

As we continue to plan for growing customer demand for our service, it is critical that we accomplish these grade separation projects. They would greatly improve the flow of traffic on roads and streets, and increase the safety and productivity of both commuter and freight services. This program is a true win-win concept.

Wherever a road or highway intersects a Metra line at grade, motor vehicle traffic can be delayed as trains pass. When vehicles block the tracks, trains are also delayed. More important, all too frequently motorists and pedestrians ignore crossing gates and warning signals, and are killed as they attempt to cross in front of a train. While most motorists are cautious, this is an imperfect solution.

All proposed grade separations would, of course, be discussed and coordinated with the relevant local community.

Grade crossing replacements would naturally be executed over an extended period of time. The cost for a program of this dimension will be approximately $2.5 billion. The permanent, long-range benefit of this initiative will provide for enhanced personal mobility, and more livable communities, in addition to greater safety for both commuters and motorists.

Metra would strongly support a Department of Transportation-wide program that can provide grants, loans, bonding authority, tax incentives and other components to address high-priority grade separations. We feel that would go a long way to improving the safety and efficiency of the nation’s transportation system.

The landmark TEA-21 legislation has been enormously helpful in providing a significant, dedicated funding stream for transit.

Metra has benefited greatly from TEA-21. Three of our current project expansion projects - the SouthWest Service, Union Pacific West, and North Central were all’, authorized under the New Start section of TEA-21.

A big highlight came in November 2001 when Metra received Full Funding Grant Agreements for the three aforementioned projects. We were delighted that the U.S. Department of Transportation recognized the importance of our program to a region where there is serious gridlock.

I’d like to reiterate our appreciation and thanks to the entire Illinois delegation, led by Speaker Hastert, for helping pave the way. Without such support, these projects would not exist.

Under TEA-21, a great deal of significant progress will be made on growing the system, upgrading the infrastructure, and enhancing the system to attract new riders. While clearly much has been accomplished by Metra to date, it is equally certain that Metra faces a new set of challenges as we wage a continuing capital-intensive battle to reclaim, modernize, and expand the region’s rail infrastructure.

With the reauthorization of TEA-21, Metra intends to build on its past record of success, and its responsible and productive expenditure of available resources, by continuing on core capacity improvements and strategic system expansion.

Population forecasts and leading economic forecasts point to continuing and growing demand for high quality commuter rail service. For Metra, the mission remains twofold: preserve and enhance its core network of service while at the same time expanding and upgrading the system in order to meet future ridership and service requirements.

Accordingly, Metra has identified five TEA-3 projects which will enhance and significantly improve service reliability and operational performance, as well as offer new service opportunities for thousands.

The proposed new lines, known as the STAR Line and the SouthEast Service Line, would provide service to northwest and southeast Cook County, Kane, DuPage and Will counties.

In addition to the proposed routes, infrastructure initiatives on the Union Pacific Northwest and West lines, and the A-2 Interlocker will help improve service for more than 60 percent of our customer base.

We look forward to the continued leadership of the Illinois delegation throughout the TEA-3 reauthorization process. Simply put, the impact of this legislation cannot be overstated.

Metra supports two key principles being included in the next reauthorization bill: (1), increasing the amount of funds for “New Start” projects; and (2), ensuring that older systems continue to be eligible for “New Start” funding.

In addition, we would also support efforts to ensure that funding levels recommended in full-funding grant agreements for a given year are honored, so that the projects can receive the funding necessary to remain on schedule.

As with the New Starts program, commuter rail also has significantly benefited from the fixed guideway modernization program. This program has brought stability to commuter rail, allowing systems to make needed upgrades and improvements.

We believe the current structure and formula allocations work and do not need changing. However, because of the increase in the number of commuter systems and the critical funding needs, we support an increase in funding for rail modernization.

Rail infrastructure improvements will allow the overall system to run more effectively and safely. These improvements will attract new riders, provide better service to existing riders, and will reduce train congestion and interference between freight and commuter trains. All these factors will positively benefit the economy at large.