The Metra Board of Directors today approved changes to the agency’s 2017 capital program, adding $22.9 million from the 2016 operating budget surplus and $56.4 million in State of Illinois bond funds for the rehabilitation and purchase of railcars and locomotives.
The changes enabled Metra to increase its 2017 capital program by $79.3 million, to $358.9 million from $279.5 million. The entire amount of the increase will be set aside for rolling stock, with a portion of the money going towards acquisition of new railcars and locomotives. The Board today also voted to authorize the agency to move forward with a request for proposals for the design and production of new railcars and locomotives. (The Metra Board today also authorized the agency to move forward with requests for proposals for the design and production of new railcars and locomotives; see separate release.)
“Our Board has made it a priority to invest every dollar we have in our most pressing capital needs,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “The changes approved today will ensure that we fund shovel-ready projects that can have the greatest impact on our system, while also increasing the investment needed to continue to upgrade and improve our fleet.”
Even with today’s increase, Metra will fall far short of the $1 billion it needs annually to achieve and maintain a state of good repair on its system. Addressing those needs remains Metra’s biggest challenge.
Two 2009 bond programs – Illinois Jump Start and Jobs Now – were expected to provide $1.1 billion for Metra’s capital needs. Metra to date has received nearly $700 million, with the remainder put on hold in recent years. The state has now notified Metra that it will receive a total of $835.7 million from the bond programs, or about an additional $136 million.
Given the new funding level, Metra has reevaluated the projects awaiting state bond funding and identified a shorter list of prioritized projects that are shovel-ready and address Metra’s infrastructure needs. The first projects to be funded with the additional money are a railcar rehabilitation program for $26.4 million and locomotive rehabilitation program for $30 million.
Other projects that will receive remaining state bond funds are the replacement of bridges on the UP North Line, the UP West Line third track project and the rehabilitation of the Healy Station on the Milwaukee North Line and the Hazel Crest Station on the Metra Electric Line.
Several other projects that had been slated for bond funding are now deferred for possible inclusion in future capital programs as funding becomes available. Those include various yard improvements and station projects, including new stations at Auburn Park (Rock Island), and Peterson Ridge (UP North) and rehabilitated stations at 59th Street (Metra Electric), Ashland (Metra Electric), Mayfair (Milwaukee North), Grayland (Milwaukee North), 91st Street (Rock Island), 115th Street (Rock Island), Hickory Creek (Rock Island), Hubbard Woods (UP North) and River Forest (UP West). The new Romeoville Station (Heritage Corridor) is moving forward without state bond funding.
By funding its railcar and locomotive rehabilitation programs with state bond funds, Metra can remove some of the funding for those programs from other sources and spend that money on new cars and engines. In that way, Metra will set aside $10 million from other sources for new cars and $18.5 million from other sources for new locomotives. The $22.9 million operating budget surplus – a result of managing costs and finishing last year in the black – also will be set aside to buy engines, bringing the total for new engines to $41.4 million.