Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact

Chicago, Illinois/Southwest Corridor

View printer friendly version

Southwest Corridor

Chicago, Illinois

(November 1998)


Metra, the commuter rail division of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of northeastern Illinois, is proposing to construct 11 additional miles to an existing 29-mile corridor connecting Union Station in downtown Chicago to 179th Street in Orland Park, Illinois. The proposed project would extend commuter rail service from Orland Park southwest to Manhattan, Illinois. The proposed action also includes the construction of three miles of a second mainline track and multiple track, signal, and station improvements. In addition, two existing rail yards would be expanded, a third rail yard would be constructed, and several railroad bridges would be rehabilitated. Metra plans to purchase two diesel locomotives and 13 bi-level passenger cars. Finally, the proposed project also includes the relocation of the downtown Chicago terminal from Union Station to the LaSalle Street Station, also in Chicago. The total estimated capital cost for these Southwest Corridor improvements is $177.4 million ($escalated).

The Southwest Corridor is an 11-mile area located along either side of the Norfolk Southern railroad between the southwest side of Chicago and Orland Park in Cook County. The corridor also encompasses the central and southwest portions of Will County, including the former Joilet Arsenal property. The corridor includes the most significant hub of employment in the six-county northeastern Illinois region, namely, the Chicago Central Business District (CBD). Metra estimates that 13,800 daily new riders will use the full system (including the 11-mile extension) in the year 2020.

Southwest Corridor Summary Description

Proposed Project Commuter Rail Line (extension, multiple line improvements)
11 miles, 2 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $177.40 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $111.80 million
Annual Operating Cost ($1997) $11.70 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 13,800 daily new riders
FY 2000 Financial Rating: Medium-High
FY 2000 Project Justification Rating: Medium-High
FY 2000 Overall Project Rating: Highly Recommended

The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1998. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.


In April 1997, Metra initiated a Major Investment Study (MIS) for the Southwest Corridor. The purpose of the MIS was to analyze the ability and cost effectiveness of various alternative investment strategies to serve the growing need for travel along the corridor to employment in the Chicago CBD. Based on the results of the MIS, Metra selected the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) to be Rail Alternative R1, which provides for the upgrade of commuter rail service on the Southwest Corridor with an extension to Manhattan, Illinois. The LPA was included in the Chicago Area Transportation Study’s, (the local Metropolitan Planning Organization) 2020 Long Range Plan and Transportation Improvement Program in November 1997.

FTA approved (in December 1998) the Southwest Corridor to initiate preliminary engineering and the environmental review process of project development. Section 3030(a)(12) of TEA-21 authorizes the "Southwest Extension [Metra]" for final design and construction. Through FY 1999, Congress has appropriated $2.98 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds for the project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA’s Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria. For reporting purposes, criteria are reported for the "Existing Airport Improvements (EAI)" socio-demographic forecast scenario. Data from the EAI socio-demographic scenario was used to evaluate the proposed new start project against both the No-build and TSM alternatives. N/A indicates that information for a specific criterion was not available.


Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium-High

Metra estimates the following annual travel time savings for the Southwest Corridor:

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) 5.60 million hours 6.20 million hours

Based on 1990 census data, there are an estimated 844 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed two stations. This represents 6 percent of the total number of households within a ½ mile radius of the proposed stations.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

Northeastern Illinois is classified as being in "severe" nonattainment for ozone. The region is in attainment for carbon monoxide and particulate matter (PM10). Metra reports a slight increase in hydrocarbon emissions for the New Start compared to both the No-build and TSM alternatives. Metra estimates that in the year 2020, the proposed project will result in the following emissions reductions:

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) reduction of 175 annual tons reduction of 185 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) reduction of 26 annual tons reduction of 30 annual tons
Hydrocarbons (HC) increase of 27 annual tons increase of 26 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) N/A N/A
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) reduction of 10,977 annual tons reduction of 12,401 annual tons

Metra estimates that the proposed project will result in the following decreases in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units – BTUs):

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (million) reduction of 143,953 million BTU reduction of 162,231 million BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

Metra estimates a decrease in the systemwide operating costs per passenger mile in the year 2020 for both the No-Build and TSM alternatives compared to the New Start.

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile ($1997) $0.22 $0.22 $0.23

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: High

Metra estimates the following cost effectiveness indices, comparing the proposed project to the No-Build and TSM alternatives:

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $5.93 $5.81

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Low-Medium

The Low-Medium land use rating reflects both the moderate to low densities as well as the relatively few transit-supportive policies that currently exist within the proposed corridor, outside of the Chicago Central Business District (CBD). The communities of Orland Park, Chicago Ridge, and Oak Lawn, all located along the Southwest Service Line, have made some progress in making their station areas more transit-friendly. There are a variety of land uses located near proposed and existing station areas, including low-density single and multi-family residential areas, transportation, communication, utilities, institutional, commercial, industrial facilities, and water/wetlands. The two proposed stations at Manhattan and Baker Road are located in southeast Will County in low-density areas. Currently, there are no transit services at either of the proposed stations. Approximately one-third of the Manhattan area is used for single-family residential, another third is agriculture, and the remainder is greenfield and industrial uses. The 1/2-mile radius surrounding the proposed Baker Road station is also used for agricultural purposes. The Will County Land Resource Management Plan contains policies that encourage development of higher density land uses in proximity to transit stations, and to promote the development of new transit services in the area. Local plans within the corridor, especially in Manhattan, Orland Park, Chicago Ridge and Oak Lawn, also encourage transit station area development.

Existing station area parking is generally provided in outlying areas oriented to inbound commuters, although several villages and towns (e.g., Palos Park, Chicago Ridge, Oak Lawn) have expressed the need to increase parking at their respective Metra stations. Metra stations closer to the Chicago CBD, however, maintain fewer spaces as a means to promote transit ridership and more efficient land use. The Chicago CBD through an existing parking levy, imposes parking fees as a means of encouraging developers of large buildings within the Chicago CBD (Chicago River, Congress Parkway, and Michigan Avenue boundaries) to reduce the construction of parking facilities (lots) accompanying development projects.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 37%

Metra proposes $111.8 million (63 percent) in Section 5309 New Starts funds and $65.6 million (37 percent) in State funds be applied to the proposed Southwest Service Line project.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium capital plan rating reflects that Metra is reasonably financially capable to provide the non-Section 5309 share of project costs. However, a proposed financial plan was not submitted to FTA for review. The current financial capacity of Metra appears strong. A financial plan outlining the combination of federal, state and local sources will be prepared during the next phase of project development. Metra, through its relationship with the RTA, has a successful history of advancing capital projects that have required significant resources beyond the federal allocation process (FTA Rail Modernization Program). Capital expenditures are usually funded by a combination of federal, state, and local grants, and from Metra’s retained earnings. Metra had cash and cash equivalents of $56 million as of December 31, 1997. Metra also receives annual allocations of dedicated sales tax revenues from the RTA. In addition, Metra has established a policy that the local communities receiving service would provide funding for stations and parking facilities. Communities may utilize flexible funding such as CMAQ and STP funds for their share. Metra estimates that communities that directly benefit from the proposed Southwest Service project will contribute $2.33 million.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: High

The High capital plan rating reflects that Metra is considered financially strong and capable of providing the proposed non-Section 5309 share of project costs. This is one of three New Start projects that Metra has under development. A financial plan, focusing on each proposed new start project outlining the funding and operating mechanisms, will be prepared during the next phase of project development. As provided under the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Act, Metra was established in 1980 to serve as RTA’s operating rail corporation. Metra receives revenues directly from the operation of Rock Island, Milwaukee Road, Metra Electric, Heritage Corridor, North Central Service, and the existing Southwest Service lines, and financial operating assistance from the RTA. Metra is proposing operating budgets through the year 2001 that will attain a 55 percent revenue recovery ratio. The Southwest Service Improvements and Extension will require an operating subsidy of $1.7 million (1997 dollars). This represents an increase of 0.9 percent in operating assistance requirements. Metra’s share of RTA’s sales tax revenues is projected to increase by approximately 4 percent during this time period.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $1997)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Federal: Section 5309 New Starts $91.69 $2.98 million appropriated through FY 1999
State/Local: $54.66 N/A
Total: $146.35

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

[Southwest Corridor Map (PDF)]

Commitment to Accessibility: DOT is committed to ensuring that information is available in appropriate alternative formats to meet the requirements of persons who have a disability. If you require an alternative version of files provided on this page, please contact