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Chicago's Metra STAR Line


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Metra bets self-propelled train will win

CHICAGO - Zipping along the Northwest Tollway on Metra's Suburban Transit Access Route (STAR) line or CTA's Blue Line extension or a Pace bus in a dedicated bus lane, free of the aggravation brought on by traffic congestion, sounds good, according to the Schaumberg Review.

But it'll be at least 10 years before anyone can take a ride on any public transit option that might align with the tollway. First, an option must be chosen. The Regional Transportation Authority has three options from which to choose. The CTA, Pace and, most recently, Metra have submitted proposals as part of the Northwest Corridor Transit Feasibility Study.

The RTA and the Northwest Municipal Conference are conducting studies on transit options along I-90 and how to pay for the chosen option, as well as land use policies within the tollway corridor, as part of the feasibility study. The proposals are aimed at improving public transportation between the city and suburbs, as well as among the suburbs themselves. Metra officials are confident that their recently unveiled proposal for a 55-mile commuter rail line will be the first choice. The projected cost is $1.1 billion.

"We're very comfortable, very confident that this will have the greatest appeal. It will impact over 100 communities. It will be the first intersuburban line. This has been a dream for us at Metra for sometime. It will create a basic suburban grid. I can assure you that this proposal has had much more detailed analysis than anything that's on the table," said Jeffrey R. Ladd, chairman of Metra's board of directors.

Ladd also said that service on the STAR line, if the Metra proposal is chosen, would be initiated in 10 to 12 years.

Metra's STAR line consists of two segments. The Outer Circumferential Segment links Joliet to Hoffman Estates via the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway (EJ&E) corridor. The Northwest Corridor Segment is a new alignment connecting the Outer Circumferential Segment to the I-90 corridor via a connection at Prairie Stone east to O'Hare International Airport along I-90 to the Des Plaines Oasis, then south on an existing freight rail line owned by the Union Pacific Railroad to O'Hare and the CTA connection at the airport's proposed new western terminal.

Metra officials said the potential exists to extend service in later phases east from Joliet, north and east from Prairie Stone, south along the Route 53/Interstate 290 corridor and from O'Hare to Midway Airport.

Metra officials have identified 17 new STAR line station locations on the route, including three in Hoffman Estates, two in Schaumburg, and one each in Rolling Meadows, in Arlington Heights, Elk Grove Village and Des Plaines.

The final three miles of the Northwest Corridor Segment would connect with the proposed O'Hare west terminal near the Des Plaines Oasis via the Union Pacific freight rail line. If Metra's proposal is chosen and the project is completed before O'Hare's expansion or if the terminal isn't built, then the STAR line would continue past the Oasis to just east of Mannheim Road with the line curving south over the eastbound I-90 lanes to eventually align with the existing Wisconsin Central tracks on Metra's North Central Service.

The priciest part of the project is the Northwest Corridor Segment, which is projected to cost $329 million. One of the requirements of this segment is the laying down of new track, much of it in the tollway's median.

The Outer Circumferential Segment would cost about $263 million with about $38 million devoted to the connection of the EJ&E line to the Northwest Corridor Segment at the Prairie Stone development in Hoffman Estates.

Metra is proposing to use 85 diesel multiple unit (DMU) trains on the STAR line. The self-propelled cars, powered by diesel fuel, get five times better fuel mileage than a conventional locomotive, according to Colorado Railcar Manufacturing reports. The company bills its DMUs as the first and only self-propelled commuter rail car that has been developed so far to meet new Federal Railroad Administration requirements for safety and has its blessing to run on freight lines.

Philip A. Pagano, Metra executive director, said the cars would be capable of a maximum speed of 79 mph.

During peak periods, riders could expect STAR line trains to run every 15 minutes (every 30 minutes, off-peak) on the Northwest Corridor Segment, and every 30 minutes (every hour, off-peak) on the Outer Circumferential Segment.

For Ladd, the choice for the locally preferred transportation option is obvious.

"We don't think there's any question that it's a huge economic engine for the region," Ladd said. "This is the first time the suburbs would have an alternative that has only been available to the city and suburban Cook County. We think the time for the STAR line is now. The congestion now is unbelievable. Try the Northwest Tollway at rush hour and you will understand the need for this.

(This item appeared in the Schaumberg Review Feb. 5, 2003)

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Guest donaltopablo

With all of the suburb to suburb highways and loops, hopefully this is a success and more people take interest in suburb to suburb mass transit into consideration. I know in Atlanta we have a plan to run LRT/BRT along the northern leg of our beltway. With so many employment centers along beltways and in the burbs, and with so much of the traffic being suburb-suburb, I think this is an excellent way to help combat that traffic.

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