South suburbs hope to learn from Denver in developing new Metra train line

November 03, 2011 12:00 am  •  By Gregory Tejeda Times Correspondent

LANSING | South suburban officials who hope to develop a new Metra southeast commuter train line between Chicago and Crete are hoping to learn from the example of Denver, where officials are developing a new system of commuter trains and buses.

In Denver, the Regional Transportation District financed the project in large part through a Public-Private Partnership Structure. Such a set-up encouraged private companies to invest their money in the project, which was then used to actually build portions of the new system.

It also means those companies will be responsible for actually maintaining the transit system once it is complete, although district officials will have control over the fare structure to use the system.

Officials with the Southeast Metra Commuter Rail Transit District heard a presentation Wednesday from officials with HNTB and William Blair & Co., some of whom were directly involved in the project in Denver.

Southeast Metra Chairman J. Wynsma said there are some differences in circumstance between Denver and the south suburbs that would prevent the concept from being copied in its entirety. But he said the structure would help local officials raise money to get the new commuter train line started.

“It is not a funding source, but a funding vehicle,” Wynsma said. “This is how (Denver) did this, but there are lots of ways we could go about doing things.”

The matter of funding to start development of a commuter train line with stops in Crete, Steger, South Chicago Heights, Chicago Heights, Glenwood, Thornton, South Holland and Dolton is significant, since Regional Transportation Authority and Metra officials, along with the Illinois General Assembly, have repeatedly indicated there is no large pool of funds that can be tapped for this project.

However state Rep. Al Riley, D-Olympia Fields, said some state funds can be found for the project, if south suburban officials use their influence to pressure Gov. Pat Quinn.

“Pat’s a good guy, but we all have to impress upon him the importance of this project,” Riley said. “It is good that he says he’s behind us, but we need him to get behind us for some resources.”

Wynsma said one issue to be dealt with is negotiations with freight railroads that use the tracks in the area where the Southeast Metra line trains would run, since those railroads would have right-of-way through the area. Problems in obtaining right-of-way would be a factor that would discourage private investors from putting money into the project.

But Lynette Ciavarella, of Metra, said negotiations between Metra and the railroads are planned in coming weeks, and she is optimistic some deal can be reached.

“We have a relatively good relationship with them, and they try to work with us to help keep all our costs down,” she said.

News article link: