LOCKPORT – With just a handful of Metra trains running the Heritage Corridor route each day, William Majewski’s 30-minute appointment with a potential tattoo client in downtown Chicago turns into a full-day affair.
“My appointment isn’t until 11, but here I am, waiting for a train at 6:30 in the morning,” Majewski, a tattoo artist from Lockport, said Friday as he stood outside the Metra station at Route 171 and 13th Street.
Metra operates six trains a day on the Heritage Corridor line, which extends from Joliet to Union Station in Chicago. That compares to 69 trains a day on the Rock Island line, which also goes to Joliet but on a different route that does not go through Lockport.
For Lori Clark, the Lockport station is a convenient place to board the train. But the Heritage Corridor line could be more convenient for her work schedule. The lack of frequent trains means Clark, who lives in Romeoville, is stuck at work longer than she’d like some days.
“I’d love to leave work earlier, but I can’t because there’s no other train. So I just sit at work,” Clark said.
The possibility of a fourth train along the route – one that would leave Joliet later in the morning and another that would leave Chicago earlier in the afternoon – will be discussed at a upcoming Metra board meeting Friday in Joliet. The meeting is schedule for 10 a.m. in the board room at the Will County Building, 302 N. Chicago St.
For years, Bill Molony, a Lockport resident who serves on Metra’s Citizen Advisory Board, has been pushing Metra officials for an additional line along the route. Molony said he hopes for a strong turnout of commuters on Friday.
He’s optimistic, he said, because the 11-member Metra board now includes a handful of new faces after several resigned last summer amid a patronage scandal fallout.
“We need to lobby them and convince them to make this a priority,” Molony said. “We need to make them aware of what the issue is.”
Molony said Metra could provide the fourth train without additional capital expenses by sending its 5:45 a.m. train back to Joliet for a later morning run, while an earlier afternoon train, presumably leaving about 4:05 p.m., could be sent back to Chicago for the 6:12 p.m run.
“It could be done in the current operating budget,” Molony said. “It’s called a non-revenue positioning move. They don’t stop. They don’t carry anybody. It’s better utilization of existing equipment. There’s no capital expense. You’re going to spend more money for crew time, fuel and maintenance.”
Money aside, one big barrier is convincing Canadian National Railway Company, which owns the tracks from 21st Street in Chicago to Jackson Street in Joliet, to go along with the idea, he said.
Canadian National is not the only railroad that shares space with Metra on the Heritage Corridor line. Amtrak owns tracks to the north of 21st Street in Chicago to Chicago Union Station. Union Pacific Railroad owns tracks from Jackson Street to Union Station in Joliet.
Both Amtrak and Union Pacific have proved to be willing to work with Metra on track issues, Molony said, but CN officials are reluctant because they don’t want to lose track capacity.
Phone messages left Tuesday with a Canadian National spokesperson seeking comment were not immediately returned.
The other issue with the line is delays, Molony said.
“This railroad crosses three other railroads between here and Chicago. You talk to Metra employees about delays, and you hear, ‘It’s freight train interference.’ When you talk to the freight railroad employees, they talk about passenger train interference. It depends on your point of view,” Molony said. “The Metra employees are trying to stay on schedule and the freight employees are trying to keep their schedule. So they’re butting heads.”
The 27.2-mile Heritage Corridor is Metra’s least populated route with 2,600 weekly riders, but ridership is increasing. From 2012 to 2013, the route experienced a 3-percent increase in ridership – the largest gain among Metra’s 11 lines.
IF YOU GOWhat: Metra Board of Directors meetingWhen: 10 a.m., FridayWhere: Will County Board room, 302 N. Chicago St.