A federal judge has ruled that the Union Pacific Railroad has the right to suspend mass transit operations on its three lines from Chicago. One of these lines, UP North, has stations in Evanston on Main Street, Davis Street and Central Street.
Federal Judge Jorge Alonso in the Northern District of Illinois stated Thursday that “nothing in … [the law] limits Union Pacific’s ability to discontinue such services … “
However, this victory of the railway does not necessarily mean that the trains will stop. Rather, it could put more pressure on Metra to reach an agreement with UP on Metra’s acquisition of the business.
Metra, the regional commuter rail operator, paid Union Pacific $ 61 million for train operations and $ 37 million for in-kind benefits such as fuel and parts in 2019, the judge said.
The UP-Metra dispute has been on trial for two years. Union Pacific, primarily a freight railroad, wants to get out of the S-Bahn business. Metra is currently paying UP to operate the trains on UP’s own tracks and to provide UP crew members and station agents on board.
This is different than on the eight other Metra routes, on which Metra staffs the trains with its own employees. Union Pacific wants the same to happen on the lines it owns. Metra isn’t against it, but the negotiations haven’t reached a financial settlement that both sides can live with.
UP actually set a hiring date for earlier this year, although trains continued to run while the case went through the court.
Judge Alonso has now dismissed Metra’s position that Union Pacific would need government approval to cease operations of the commuter trains, or if it doesn’t, Illinois State approval.
The judge said Metra’s “argument reflects a misunderstanding … of the law …”.
UP spokeswoman Kristen South told Evanston Now, “We are pleased with the court’s decision and look forward to continuing our partnership with Metra.”
South stated that the company has always said that “we want to work with Metra to ensure a smooth service transition without disrupting passenger service.”
It is unclear whether Metra will appeal. Spokesman Michael Gillis told Evanston Now, “We are reviewing the verdict and our options.”
However the trains operated, they carried far fewer passengers than usual during the coronavirus pandemic, when many commuters worked from home rather than taking the train downtown.
In the period before the 2019 pandemic, Metra carried 74 million passengers system-wide. Last year there were only 18.6 million,
On the UP North line through Evanston, the latest monthly number of 217,520 journeys more than doubled in August from just 92,450 in August last year. But that’s still less than a third of the pre-pandemic passenger numbers of 760,506 in August 2019.