Can feds fix ongoing BNSF Line woes? Congressman calls for intervention

  • Metra BNSF commuters are frustrated over chronic delays on the busy line and that's caused a congressman to ask for federal intervention.

      Metra BNSF commuters are frustrated over chronic delays on the busy line and that's caused a congressman to ask for federal intervention. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, June 2018

Posted11/5/2018 5:30 AM

Are sweltering rail cars and teeth-gnashingly delay-prone trains a federal concern?

Suburban congressman Dan Lipinski thinks so. Last month was apparently the breaking point for the Western Springs Democrat, who wants the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to intervene to fix meltdowns on Metra's BNSF Line.


"Accidents happen, but problems seem to never end on the BNSF line," said the usually restrained Lipinski, who's been getting an earful from riders. The Surface Transportation Board regulates railroads.

The BNSF frequently has been hit with delays over the last year. The line from Aurora to Union Station, owned and operated by BNSF in partnership with Metra, carries the most commuters -- about 20 percent -- on Metra along with balancing a hectic freight schedule.

The congressman, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, told the board, "I strongly believe the STB should conduct appropriate oversight over BNSF to ensure the railroad is taking a more proactive approach moving forward and is on track to resolve existing problems."

In August, the BNSF was the least punctual route with a 92.7 percent on-time performance score out of 11 lines. Among the issues were delays and confusion resulting from a new schedule that started in June and air-conditioning breakdowns in July.

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Just before Lipinski asked for STB action on Oct. 24, Metra told riders to expect cancellations and delays over the previous weekend so workers could accelerate a rail tie replacement project. And on Oct. 25, a morning meltdown caused by downed wires in Cicero caused Lipinski to say these "problems just reinforce the need for this oversight. These headaches for passengers are unacceptable."

What's going to happen next? The STB has reached out to BNSF, a congressional staffer said.

For its part, the freight railroad "is committed to working with Metra to provide riders the safest and most reliable trip possible," spokesman Andy Williams said.

He noted that the railroad was the first to install Positive Train Control, an automatic braking system mandated by Congress. "Additionally, BNSF performed maintenance work aimed at ensuring rider safety and the best service going into this winter."

Got an opinion on Metra, the STB or other transportation issues? Drop an email to


Who's on time?

Metra's BNSF Line had a 92.7 percent on-time performance score in August, according to the agency's website. That's lower compared to the Milwaukee North Line, which had a 94.8 percent on-time level in August and the Milwaukee West Line with 96.6 percent. The BNSF has the most trains and passengers on Metra; it's followed by the Union Pacific Line. The UP North had a 96.6 percent on-time performance in August while the UP Northwest was at 95.8 percent and the UP West was at 89.9 percent.

One more thing

Interestingly, a Chicagoan who knows a few things about Metra could become an STB member in the near future. Former Metra chairman Marty Oberman was nominated to the board in July by President Donald Trump, but his appointment is still pending in the Senate. The attorney and former independent Chicago alderman served on Metra from 2013 to 2017 and would fill a Democratic spot on the bipartisan board.

You should know

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