Chicago, Illinois/North Central Corridor Commuter Rail

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North Central Corridor Commuter Rail

Chicago, Illinois

(November 2000)


Metra, the commuter rail division of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of northeastern Illinois, is proposing to construct 16 miles of an additional (second) mainline track, including a two-mile stretch of third 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 $236.4 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.

North Central Corridor Summary Description

Proposed Project Commuter Rail Line (upgrade, multiple improvements)
16 miles, 5 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $236.40 million
Section 5309 New Starts Share ($YOE) $144.70 million
Annual Operating Cost ($YOE) $6.70 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 8,400 average weekday boardings
8,000 daily new riders
FY 2002 Financial Rating: Medium-High
FY 2002 Project Justification Rating: Medium
FY 2002 Overall Project Rating: Recommended

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 2000. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined.


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. Metra completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the NCS in April 2000. FTA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact on the EA in May 2000. FTA approved the NCS to enter final design in October 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 2001, Congress has appropriated $33.84 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. N/A indicates that information for a specific criterion was not available.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in final design.


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. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings (Hours) 1.60 million hours 1.30 million hours

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” non-attainment 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. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) reduction of 159 annual tons reduction of 78 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) reduction of 21 annual tons reduction of 8 annual tons
Hydrocarbons (HC) increase of 50 annual tons increase of 44 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) N/A N/A
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) reduction of 9,433 annual tons reduction of 4,166 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 123,963 million BTU reduction of 54,964 million BTU

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.

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2020) $0.23 $0.23 $0.23

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:

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No- Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $10.20 $13.60

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 widespread local redevelopment initiatives in transit station areas and 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. However, the two outermost stations are located in or near town centers with moderate densities and pedestrian-friendly development patterns. Parking requirements are generally the responsibility of individual municipalities along the NCC. While the areas surrounding Metra stations in Chicago and several other communities are zoned for high-density development, most communities in the corridor do not have zoning regulations that apply specifically to transit station areas. 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. However, no examples have been provided of specific incentives for private or public development projects in station 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 New Starts Share of Total Project Costs: 39%

The project financial plan proposes to use $144,7 million (61 percent of total project costs) in Section 5309 New Starts funds, $8.2 million (3 percent) in Section 5309 Rail Modernization funds, $35 million (15 percent) of Strategic Capital Improvement Program (SCIP) bonds issued by RTA, $35 million (15 percent) in Metra contributions, and $13 million (6 percent) from the State and local governments.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the soundness of Metra’s financial condition and the strength of the agency’s dedicated revenue sources. The rating also acknowledges the commitment of the majority of non-Section 5309 New Starts funds to the North Central Corridor project.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: Metra’s financial condition is strong. Metra has two revenue sources that are available for funding capital projects: a five percent fare increase, introduced in 1989 and dedicated to capital improvements currently generates $9 million annually. In addition, Metra’s portion of the RTA sales tax revenues (collected in the six-county region) that exceeds Metra’s operating expenses is applied to capital improvements. In 1999, Metra’s share of the sales tax revenue totaled $208 million. Excess sales tax revenue, along with revenue generated from the five percent fare increase, provided a total of $39 million. Metra also plans to contribute approximately $34.9 million from the agency’s funding sources, including rolling stock and capital fund contributions, to the construction of the North Central Corridor Commuter Rail project. The remainder of the local share ($48.6 million) will be funded by RTA via the Strategic Capital Improvement Program (SCIP) and State and local municipalities.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Total capital costs increased approximately 37 percent over the last year as a result of more refined engineering analyses. These estimates are considered acceptable for a project of this magnitude. Contingencies for the North Central Corridor project are budgeted at 13.5 percent of the NCC’s total capital cost.

Existing and Committed Funding: Funds for the North Central Corridor project are programmed in Metra’s five-year (FY2000-FY2004) capital program. The RTA has legislatively authorized the funds from the SCIP bond program.

New and Proposed Sources: Only existing sources are proposed to cover the non-Section 5309 New Starts share of capital costs associated with the North Central Corridor project.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: High

The High rating reflects the strong operating condition of Metra. The rating also acknowledges the agency’s full commitment of the required operating and maintenance funding for the North Central Corridor project.

Agency Operating Condition: Metra is projecting systemwide operating budgets through the year 2001 that represent a 55 percent revenue recovery ratio for the agency. The agency’s 1999 Financial Report indicated that Metra had an operating loss, before depreciation, of $173.2 million (a 6.5 percent increase over the prior year’s operating loss). Metra received $215.1 million in tax revenue, which covered the operating deficit. Tax revenue grew at a slightly faster rate than the operating loss (6.6 percent over the previous year). Total operating revenues for the agency increased from $122.2 million to $128.1 million (a 4.9 percent increase).

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Annual operating and maintenance costs are estimated at $6.73 million in the opening year.

Existing and Committed Funding: Operating funds (sales tax revenues) for the NCC are existing and committed. A statutory mandate requires Metra to fund operations with tax proceeds before funding capital improvements. The sales tax is considered a reliable funding source since it responds to growth in the economy and price level inflation.

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

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Federal: Section 5309 New Starts $144.70 $33.84 million appropriated through FY 2001
Federal: Section 5309 Fixed Guideway Modernization $8.20 N/A
State: Illinois DOT Bonds $1.80 N/A
Local: SCIP Bonds $34.90 N/A
Local: Metra $34.90 N/A
Local: Municipality Contributions $12.00 N/A
Total: $236.40

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

 North Cental Corridor Commuter Rail Map of proposed construction of 16 miles of an additional (second) mainline track, including a two-mile stretch of third track that extends from downtown Chicago to Antioch on the Illinois-Wisconsin border, traversing suburban Lake County.