A Message from the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer on behalf of the Metra Board of Directors and Staff
Metra is entering its 2020 fiscal year in a substantially better position than it was in a year ago, and for that we have Springfield to thank. By approving the first statewide capital program in 10 years, the Legislature and Gov. J. B. Pritzker have thrown a lifeline to Metra and other entities across the state that were starved for infrastructure funding. For the first time in a long time, Metra has a major infusion of dollars with which to attack a huge backlog of capital needs, and we are greatly pleased to detail our plans for spending that money.
And yet...we must, unfortunately, issue a warning with that thank you. We of course have two budgets – capital for our infrastructure needs and operating for our day-to-day expenses – and the Legislature did not address the operating side. Our costs continue to rise, and we are still challenged by the new cost of the federally mandated Positive Train Control, an incredibly complex and expensive safety system. Our current operating subsidies, meanwhile, rely too heavily on sales taxes, which have not kept pace with expenses primarily due to the rise of the service economy and the switch to online retail.
Nevertheless, we will not raise fares in 2020, for the second year in a row. We can do that because we have sliced expenses and seriously tightened our belts. But that does not allow us to do what we should be doing, what we want to be doing: adding service, growing ridership, giving northeast Illinois more and better options to cut congestion, reduce pollution, spur the economy and improve the quality of life in the city and suburbs.
Don’t get us wrong, the new capital program is a game-changer for Metra and will help us meet some of those goals. Of particular importance is the establishment of a steady, annual stream of subsidies from the state gas tax that will increase with inflation. This pay-as-you-go funding, abbreviated as “PAYGO,” will insert a level of certainty into our planning process that has long been missing; it has been hard to plan multiyear projects when funding is so uncertain year to year.
When that PAYGO funding is added to another pot of money from a new state bond program, Metra expects to receive more than $1.4 billion from Illinois over the next five years. To put that amount in perspective, our last infusion of capital funding from the state, in 2009, was $836 million over a 10-year period. And when you add the state capital funding to projected federal and local capital funding, Metra expects to spend nearly $2.6 billion over the next five years – an unprecedented amount.
How does Metra plan to spend this money? Details are outlined in this document. Broadly speaking, however, we will buy new railcars to replace cars that are 40 to 67 years old, with an emphasis on increased capacity and passenger amenities. We will buy more remanufactured locomotives to replace some that are older than 40 years old, and we will explore buying alternative fuel locomotives. We will continue our car and locomotive rehab programs, including upgrades to more reliable traction motors. We will upgrade stations, with an emphasis on making them ADA accessible and ensuring that every station has a warming shelter. We will replace all elevators that are beyond their useful life. We will replace some of the almost 500 bridges that are more than 100 years old. It's the right thing to do to prevent failure in the future. We will renew and replace several major switching locations and improve miles of signals. In short, we will begin to renew our old system.
We encourage our customers to read this document and give us feedback about the proposed spending, either by sending us an email or attending a public hearing. We really want to hear from you. This is your money, your agency, and we want to hear your voice. We also need your help: As a state, we need to take a hard look at how we fund public transportation operations and rethink our reliance on the sales tax. We still need sustained operating subsidies indexed to inflation so we can grow to meet the region’s transportation needs.
Norman Carlson - Chairman of the Board
James M. Derwinski - CEO/Executive Director