Chicago, Illinois/North Central Corridor Commuter Rail

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North Central Corridor Commuter Rail

Chicago, Illinois

(November 1999)

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Metra, the commuter rail division of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of northeastern Illinois, is proposing to construct 12 miles of an additional (second) mainline track along the existing 53-mile North Central Service (NCS) commuter rail line. The NCS also uses the tracks of the Wisconsin Central Railroad, which also operates its own freight trains on the same tracks. The corridor extends from downtown Chicago to Antioch on the Illinois-Wisconsin border, traversing suburban Lake County. The proposed project also includes track and signal upgrades, construction of five new stations, parking facilities, expansion of an existing rail yard, and the purchase of one new diesel locomotive and eight bi-level passenger cars. The total estimated capital cost for the North Central Corridor project is $177.9 million (escalated dollars).

The North Central Corridor is an area located along either side of the Wisconsin Central Limited track between Antioch and Franklin Park in Lake and Cook counties and along the Milwaukee-West Line between Franklin Park and the City of Chicago. The corridor includes the two most significant hubs of employment in the six-county northeastern Illinois region, namely, the Chicago Central Business District (CBD) and the area surrounding O’Hare International Airport. Metra estimates that 8,400 average weekday boardings on the full NCS line in the year 2020.

Summary Description

Proposed Project:

Commuter Rail Line (upgrade, multiple improvements)

12 miles, 5 new stations

Total Capital Cost ($YOE):

$177.9 million

Section 5309 New Starts Share ($YOE):

$110.9 million

Annual Operating Cost ($YOE):

$6.7 million

Ridership Forecast (2020):

8,400 average weekday boardings

8,000 daily new riders

FY 2001 Financial Rating:


FY 2001 Project Justification Rating:


FY 2001 Overall Project Rating:


The overall project rating of Recommended is based on the project’s adequate justification criteria ratings and the strength of the project’s capital and operating financing plans. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999. 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 North Central Corridor. The primary purpose of the MIS was to analyze the ability and cost effectiveness of various alternative investment strategies to serve the growing need for travel from the corridor to employment in the Chicago CBD. As a secondary purpose, Metra also analyzed the need for travel from the corridor to the area surrounding O’Hare International Airport.

The MIS was completed in August 1998. Based on the results of the MIS, Metra selected the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) to be Rail Alternative R2 that provides for the enhancement of commuter rail service in the North Central Corridor. The LPA was included in the Chicago Area Transportation Study’s (local Metropolitan Planning Organization) 2020 Long-Range Transportation Plan and Transportation Improvement Program in November 1997.

FTA approved the North Central Corridor to initiate preliminary engineering (PE) and the environmental review process of project development in December 1998. The PE/environmental review process is scheduled for completion in Summer 2000.

Section 3030(a)(10) of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) authorizes the "North Central Upgrade – Commuter Rail [Metra]" for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $17.45 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, Metra provided criteria for the "Existing Airport Improvements (EAI)" socio-demographic 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.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering. The project will be re-evaluated when it is ready to advance to final design and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts.


The Medium project justification rating reflects across-the-board Medium ratings assigned to each of the justification criteria.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Medium

Metra estimates that in the year 2020, 8,400 average weekday boardings will be served by the full 53-mile North Central Corridor commuter rail project, including 8,000 daily new riders. Other Metra lines that would benefit from improvements to segments of the North Central Corridor would carry many of these new riders. Metra estimates the following annual travel time savings for the North Central Corridor:


Mobility Improvements

New Start vs.


New Start vs. TSM

Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours)

1.6 million

1.3 million

Based on 1990 census data, there are an estimated 3,811 low-income households within a ½ mile radius of the existing and proposed stations, representing 12 percent of the total number of households within a ½ mile radius of the stations.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

Northeastern Illinois is classified as being in "severe" nonattainment for ozone. The region is in attainment for carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter (PM10). Metra reports a slight increase in volatile organic compound (VOC) 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.


New Start vs. TSM

Carbon Monoxide (CO)



Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)



Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)



Particulate Matter (PM10)



Carbon Dioxide (CO2)



Values reflect annual tons of emissions reductions. Values in [] represent an increase in emissions.

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.


New Start vs. TSM

BTU (million)



Values reflect annual BTU reductions.

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

Metra estimates the following systemwide operating cost per passenger mile in the year 2020 for the New Start, No-Build, and TSM alternatives.




New Start

System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2020)




Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Medium

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



New Start vs.


New Start vs.


Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger



Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium

The Medium land use rating reflects the adequate transit-supportive development characterizing the proposed North Central Corridor (NCC). The rating also acknowledges Metra’s proactive efforts to engage municipalities along the NCC in land use planning and transit-oriented design.

Existing Conditions: The proposed corridor extends along a 53-mile area located along either side of the Wisconsin Central Limited track between Antioch and Franklin Park in Lake and Cook counties and along the Milwaukee-West Line between Franklin Park and Union Station in downtown Chicago. Downtown Chicago, which is a major destination for riders, contains high density, pedestrian and transit-friendly development. The NCC also serves the O’Hare International Airport (100,000 jobs). Beginning at Union Station and extending out towards the Antioch Station, the development character changes from high-density development to rural low-density land uses. For example, base year corridor estimates for a sample of two existing station areas include Deval Transfer station with 6.88 persons/acre and 9.85 jobs/acre; and Rosemont station with 0.91 persons/acre and 8.87 jobs/acre. Parking requirements are generally the responsibility of individual municipalities along the NCC. The 2020 Regional Transportation Plan encourages the implementation of parking space reduction policies. Downtown Chicago’s parking policies prohibit stand-alone commercial parking facilities. In addition, the municipality of Antioch offers a reduction of 15 percent in the number of parking spaces required for

commercial use when parking is shared within the Business Overlay District, which includes an existing Metra station.

Future Plans and Policies: Metra has made a commitment to assist communities in updating their comprehensive plans to include transit-oriented development (TOD). Metra has developed a set of brochures entitled Land Use Guidelines and Local Economic Benefits to Foster TOD and has provided assistance to several communities located along the NCC. Approximately eight communities have expressed support of the TOD concept report and have indicated that TOD activities are currently in place in their areas.

Several station areas along the NCC have plans to develop TODs within existing residential, commercial and light industrial locations. The strategies range from new single-family homes and multi-density dwelling units to retail and open space developments. In addition, located directly east of the extant Mundelein station (11 acres) plans call for 235,000-square foot office facility for the proposed State-funded University Center of Lake County. At the proposed Franklin Park Station, plans call for the development of a nine-story, assisted living complex located one block from the new station. In addition, a nine-story condominium development with retail is planned adjacent to the nearby Franklin Park Station on the Milwaukee West Line.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 36%

The financial strategy for the proposed North Central Corridor project includes $110.9 million (64 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Starts funds and $67.0 million

(36 percent) in State and local funds.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the sound financial condition of Metra and the agency’s positive dedicated revenue sources, and that most of the proposed non-Section 5309 share of project costs is committed.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: Metra is in sound financial condition. The agency has two revenue sources that are available for funding capital projects: a five percent fare increase, introduced in 1989 and dedicated to capital improvements; and the agency’s portion of the RTA sales tax revenues that exceed Metra’s operating expenses. In addition, in 1999, the Illinois legislature passed additional authorization for the Strategic Capital Improvement Program (SCIP) bonds in the amount of $1.3 billion, of which Metra’s share is $585 million. An additional $300 million in RTA bonding authority was also included in the Illinois legislative package. Metra’s share of the increased bonding authority is $135 million.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Capital cost estimates for the North Central Corridor project are considered reasonable given the project’s size and alignment.

Existing and Committed Funding: All non-Section 5309 New Starts funds are considered committed to the proposed project. Programmed resources include SCIP bond program revenues ($27.1 million); sales tax allocations ($19.7 million); and funding from participating municipalities ($19.9 million).

New and Proposed Sources: No new funding sources are proposed for the project.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: High

The High rating reflects the strong operating condition of Metra (the third largest commuter rail system in the country). The projected annual operating and maintenance costs needed for the project represent a minimal impact on Metra’s overall operations.

Agency Operating Condition: Metra is projecting systemwide operating budgets through the year 2001 that represent a 55 percent revenue recovery ratio. The proposed North Central improvements are anticipated to require an additional operating subsidy of $0.34 million (escalated dollars). This estimate represents a 0.9 percent increase in operating assistance requirements. Metra’s share of RTA sales tax revenues – for the North Central Corridor project - is projected to increase by approximately 0.2 percent during this time period.

Operating Costs Estimates and Contingencies: Annual operating and maintenance costs are estimated at $6.73 million (escalated dollars). Operating and maintenance cost escalation factors are reasonable.

Existing and Committed Funding: All of the proposed project’s sources of operating funds (sales tax revenues) are existing and committed. Sales tax revenues, which are Metra’s primary source of non-operating revenue has been forecast – by an independent economic consulting firm – to grow at an annual rate of 4.5 percent through the year 2018. The sales tax is considered a reliable funding source since it responds to both growth in the economy and price level inflation.

The project’s estimated annual operating deficit of $0.34 million represents a minimal impact on the systemwide operating assistance requirements. Metra anticipates that the deficit will be covered through the RTA sales tax.

New and Proposed Sources: No new operating revenue sources are proposed for the project.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)


Proposed Source of Funds

Total Funding ($million)


Appropriations to Date

  Section 5309 New Starts


($17.45 million appropriated through FY 2000)
SCIP Bonds




  Municipality Contributions





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

North Central Corridor