* Marni Pyke at the Daily Herald…
Metra leaders gave riders a 2019 fare-hike holiday Wednesday but promised doomsday-scenario downsizing unless state funding materializes.
That could mean eliminating stations, trains and even routes, officials said.
“Absent adequate funding, Metra cannot survive in its current form,” Chairman Norm Carlson said.
The solution is to convince Illinois lawmakers to turn on the tap for transit despite ongoing state budget woes, officials said. “We are the lifeline that holds the region together economically — we get people back and forth to work,” Carlson said.
If the push for funding fails, “drastic changes in service levels … may be needed to shrink (Metra’s) size to what our resources can sustain,” he added.
* Mary Wisniewski at the Tribune…
“A fare increase only puts a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” said board member Tim Baldermann of Will County. He said the state has “kicked the can down the road for decades” in terms of funding, and suggested the possibility that Metra may have to cut lines without adequate state help. […]
Metra staff proposed a preliminary 2019 operating budget of $828 million if there are no fare hikes, and a capital budget of about $211 million. The agency has said it needs $1 billion in capital funding to get into a state of good repair. […]
Metra lines with the lowest annual ridership include the Heritage Corridor to Joliet, with 730,000 trips in 2017, and the North Central Service to Antioch, with 1.7 million trips, out of a total of 78.6 million trips for the whole system.
* Matthew Hendrickson at the Sun-Times…
In 2014, Metra announced at $2.4 billion plan to modernize its trains and install a federally mandated — yet unfunded — Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system intended to prevent train collisions and derailments.
The board said the plan was put together with the assumption the agency would get $700 million in state and federal funding, with Metra putting in $400 million. But since the state hasn’t passed a new infrastructure plan since 2009 and has reduced some of the funding the agency expected, most of the revenue from fare increases has gone toward capital needs and the PTC system.
* Riverside Democrat…