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CHICAGO — Union Pacific is working with commuter rail operator Metra to “safely and seamlessly transfer its commuter operation in Chicago, including the employees who perform the work,” UP announced today (Thursday, March 30), setting the stage for an exit from the commuter rail business long sought by the freight operator.

UP said Metra will take over services including train crew, mechanical, car cleaning, rolling stock maintenance, ticket sales, and some engineering services. Some management employees moved to Metra earlier this year, with union mechanical and transportation employees anticipated to begin to transfer in 2023. UP will continue to maintain and dispatch the three lines used by Metra: the Union Pacific West, Northwest, and North Lines.

Metra said in a statement to Trains News Wire that the two parties “have been working together on a safe, efficient transition of UP’s passenger operations to Metra. We agreed last fall to approach that transition on two separate tracks. Under one, we are addressing the complexities and logistics of the transfer of the relevant responsibilities for operating the service. UP’s release today accurately summarizes that process and timeline. Under the second, financial negotiations are proceeding with legal and real estate teams. It is anticipated that those negotiations will be resolved after many of the logistical aspects of the transfer have been completed.”

Commuter train at station
A Metra Union Pacific Northwest train arrives in Crystal Lake, Ill. David Lassen

In a interview earlier in March for an upcoming Trains magazine feature, Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said, “We’ve always said that we felt there’s no better people to operate those three lines than the people currently operating those lines. So we’re looking forward to welcoming [them] into Metra when the time comes.”

Metra and UP began discussions on changing the nature of operations in 2019, ahead of the end of a purchase-of-service contract covering Metra operations on three UP-owned former Chicago & North Western lines [see “Metra, Union Pacific in talks that could change operating agreement,” News Wire, Dec. 5, 2019].

But the two sides ultimately could not reach an agreement. The dispute went to court and the Surface Transportation Board, with the STB deferring action in 2020 pending a court resolution [see “STB defers decision …,” News Wire, Aug. 7, 2020.] A federal judge ruled for UP in a case in which Metra asserted the freight railroad had a common-carrier obligation to continue the commuter operation, but Metra has appealed that decision [see “Metra asks court to revisit ruling,” News Wire, Oct. 26, 2021] and a decision is still pending.

While Derwinksi said “there are disagreements … there’s some financials behind it and we’ll see what the courts say on some of that,” he also said the Metra-UP “relationship as a whole is good. We understand each other’s role in the region. The UP is constantly showing us that they value Metra’s position and the riders. They’ve said they’re never going to leave us hanging, and they’ve stood to their word.”

Union Pacific announces start of transition of Chicago commuter rail operations to Metra