A large crowd of BNSF line commuters braved Saturday’s frigid weather to attend a Metra Town Hall Meeting in Naperville hosted by State Representative Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville).
Between 50-60 rail line users attended the forum, where they heard from high-level officials from Metra and BNSF Railways, who spoke about the challenges the rail line faces with regard to financial constraints, cold weather and a fleet of locomotives and passenger cars that have outlived their intended service life. Keynote speakers at the meeting included Metra CEO Jim Derwinski, BNSF Assistant Vice President D.J. Mitchell and Metra Board Member John Zediker. Jennifer Louden, Deputy Director of Naperville’s Transportation, Engineering and Development Department, was also available to answer questions.
“By bringing together experts from Metra and BNSF, those who attended the forum heard first-hand from those with the greatest knowledge about the challenges we’re all facing with the BNSF line,” said Wehrli. “Proximity to Chicago via a short train ride is a primary reason many families live in Naperville, so when late trains become the norm rather than the exception, we need to get to the bottom of it. Useful information was shared, and those with Metra/BNSF decision-making power were able to hear directly from residents who are frustrated by ongoing service disruptions.”
Following a half-hour presentation, officials took questions from the audience for another 1 ½ hours. “It was interesting to learn that during any given rush hour, more than 700 switches must be activated to accommodate commuter trains. Especially during inclement weather, that’s 700 opportunities for equipment malfunctions, and given the age of the technology, it’s no surprise we are experiencing service issues,” Wehrli said. “I also found it interesting that improving capacity on trains isn’t as simple as just adding more passenger cars. I’m pleased to know they are exploring the possibility of increasing seating capacity on individual cars in the future.”
Derwinski and Mitchell both pointed to the need for a capital bill to fund Metra infrastructure needs, and Wehrli said he will be pushing for BNSF line money to be included in any capital bill that is brought forward in Springfield this year. Wehrli is asking that constituents with opinions on a possible capital bill that includes funding for BNSF line improvements share their opinions by calling the office at (630) 696-4160 or sending an email to 41DistrictDirector@gmail.com.