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Metra UP service shenanigans

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John Bredin

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Union Pacific operates three commuter lines under contract with Metra, inherited from the Chicago and NorthWestern Railway when UP bought C&NW. For a while now, UP has wanted "out" of operating the service. Metra thinks UP has common-carrier obligations, while UP doesn't. So the UP has gone before the Surface Transportation Board for (1) a ruling that UP has common-carrier obligations re. the existing Chicago commuter service, and (2) an injunction against UP ceasing commuter-service-related activities like revenue accounting, claims, ticket agents, and maintenance of cars and locomotives. Metra statement with details.

I'm presuming there's a certain amount of brinksmanship in UP saying, as Metra puts it "that if the court [sic, the STB, I would imagine] determines it has no common carrier obligation, it intends to discontinue service 90 days after that decision." Having Metra sell tickets and maintain rolling stock is one thing, Metra already does that for most of its lines, but ending service is another animal altogether.
 
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I thought this happened a long time ago - didn't it? I guess that's what I get for not commuting and reading "On the Bi-Level" regularly...
 

John Bredin

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I thought this happened a long time ago - didn't it? I guess that's what I get for not commuting and reading "On the Bi-Level" regularly.
As the Metra statement mentioned, there was an earlier performance of this contract-negotiation kabuki dance in a federal court. That didn't come to a conclusion, so this is the second round in a new ring, the STB.
 

railiner

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I am somewhat surprised about Metra's position on this....every "self-respecting" government bureaucracy that I have been aware, of seeks to grow larger, do more things, control its own destiny, etc...
And I am somewhat confused about UP's position as well...it seems I recall about a decade or so ago, that the UP was actively seeking contracts from various government agencies to operate commuter services...(California?)...🤔
 

neroden

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Metra's simply trying to enforce federal law. And there is definitely an advantage to Metra in having a ruling that UP has the common carrier obligation. Which UP does have -- Metra is correct. Because UP doesn't *want* the common carrier obligation, and the common carrier obligation follows the tracks, Metra then has a lever to force UP to sell the tracks to Metra. Which is the desirable outcome for a passenger service operator.

UP is just trying to get away with something illegal; its position has no merit. We'll see if they get away with it.
 

railiner

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I don't know the legality of the issue, but I don't think the UP should be forced to run a business it does not want to, just so long as they provide Metra with the infrastructure to run it itself, as well as a reasonable time for Metra to assume that capability. If Metra can do it on the other railroads, they can do it on UP's railroad.

Further...if the court rules in Metra's favor, and the UP is forced to run the service as a 'common carrier', I think the UP should say fine, we'll run it, and then throw Metra the heck off its property, and run the entire operation under their own name, and with their own equipment, and do it much better than Metra would ever...

I know....good thing I'm not the judge, right?;)
 

MikefromCrete

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I don't know the legality of the issue, but I don't think the UP should be forced to run a business it does not want to, just so long as they provide Metra with the infrastructure to run it itself, as well as a reasonable time for Metra to assume that capability. If Metra can do it on the other railroads, they can do it on UP's railroad.

Further...if the court rules in Metra's favor, and the UP is forced to run the service as a 'common carrier', I think the UP should say fine, we'll run it, and then throw Metra the heck off its property, and run the entire operation under their own name, and with their own equipment, and do it much better than Metra would ever...

I know....good thing I'm not the judge, right?;)
You do realize that such a move would cost millions of dollars for UP and would be a continuing burden for UP's stockholders. The whole thing began because UP's Wall Street overloads want to dump the commuter service employees from their payroll and otherwise cut costs. The UP has no interest in running any kind of passenger service. Metra does a very good job of running trains, I don't see how UP could do any better.
 

railiner

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You do realize that such a move would cost millions of dollars for UP and would be a continuing burden for UP's stockholders. The whole thing began because UP's Wall Street overloads want to dump the commuter service employees from their payroll and otherwise cut costs. The UP has no interest in running any kind of passenger service. Metra does a very good job of running trains, I don't see how UP could do any better.
You are absolutely correct.
I was just 'venting' some anger over the situation, from a UP point of view...seems unfair to me, that Metra runs some services, and not other's.
Perhaps UP should hire some personnel from the "Penn Central school" of passenger service's...after they drove away customer's, the commuter authorities quickly relieved them of the burden...😉
 

Trogdor

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You are absolutely correct.
I was just 'venting' some anger over the situation, from a UP point of view...seems unfair to me, that Metra runs some services, and not other's.
Perhaps UP should hire some personnel from the "Penn Central school" of passenger service's...after they drove away customer's, the commuter authorities quickly relieved them of the burden...😉
Why is it unfair? Metra is paying UP to operate trains, and as far as I can tell, this hasn't really been an issue until recently.

BNSF also operates trains for Metra under essentially the same (or at least a very similar) arrangement. Are they complaining?
 

railiner

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Why is it unfair? Metra is paying UP to operate trains, and as far as I can tell, this hasn't really been an issue until recently.

BNSF also operates trains for Metra under essentially the same (or at least a very similar) arrangement. Are they complaining?
I consider it 'unfair', because UP is being forced into operating a business they have no desire to do...they could fulfill their 'common carrier' obligations, by providing the necessary infrastructure, and letting the entity that was created to operate that sort of business, do so on their railroad. Just like they do in California...not to mention Amtrak long distance services. If BNSF doesn't mind operating their portion of Metra, that is their business...perhaps they make money at it, and like having direct control over it. What about all the other roads Metra operates over?

What if Amtrak decides to try to force UP back into the passenger business, by staffing the T&E, and OBS crews, as well as station personnel on the Sunset, and their portion of the Coast Starlight? Would that really be different?
Amtrak was created to relieve the railroads from the money losing passenger burden. Commuter authorities across the land, such as Metra, I believe were created for the same thing, on a regional scale. Most of these authorities have taken more and more of the responsibilites, over time. Why is Metra different?
 

west point

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Accordiing to the statements here all utility type companies can drop their services that do not make money. Computer programs can isolate services to a certain street or a rural area. So your logic PG&E can drop money loosing rural electric service since the fire danger will destroy costly power lines. The telephone company here can drop rural services since it is a money loosing operation. The gas company can drop their rural service here.

Don't you just love that logic ? Service companies received their charters to serve certain areas often with financial incentaives. now they want to ditch a service that no longeer makes money. Exclusive area servicing companies survive a long time and any company that takes over their operation is obligated to maintain that service. Otherwise do not take it over !

This dropping of customers on a RR line because the customer no longer meets the god of lower operation ratio IMHO is criminal. It is time to have some rate regulation that requires service that will give a small profit or open the route to a short line that will serve a custoomer.
 
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Seaboard92

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This dropping of customers on a RR line because the customer no longer meets the god of lower operation ratio IMHO is criminal. It is time to have some rate regulation that requires service that will give a small profit or open the route to a short line that will serve a custoomer.

It is not just passenger service getting the shaft in those scenarios small freight customers are also struggling with the PSR wall street goals. The thing about PSR it was originally designed to help the railroaders themselves and not just wall street, but it has been so corrupted over the years that it has that connotation now.

PSR in it's original intents should have improved the life of the railroaders and the customer but now it doesn't. Take for instance my home line the CSX Hamlet Sub. We once had a thru freight train that ran from Cayce, SC to Hamlet, NC the average run time was four hours one way. Now due to PSR the train instead of taking the direct route now runs via Sumter, SC and Florence, SC and has lengthened the trip to 10 hours. Now the Hamlet sub just sees freight on it's first thirty miles and Amtrak overnight on weekends. It's not a functional plan.

As far as the issue with UP it is rather interesting that UP is still in the Metra contract in my opinion as it is the only passenger operation that they are in that I can think of. I don't think they handle any contracts in California. Whereas BNSF has two others the commuter line in St. Paul, MN and the Seattle Sounder. CSX used to run the MARC EX B&O services. I don't think NS has operated anything in the last thirty years to my recollection.
 

railiner

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west point

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On September 1 have fare ccollectors at the CHI station looking at each ticket and punching same if not punched. Record number of non punches and bille UP as that establiching what UP is not. Then sue!
 

railiner

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From that article: "One option on the table would be for Metra to take over operations of the commuter trains using its own employees, Gillis said."

Well good then....take it over, do it your way, and quit complaining....
 

Willbridge

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Ironically, I just tossed out the attractive UP folder and white paper about the value of providing commuter rail service on existing (UP) lines. It was prepared for the development of LA Metrolink, but in the same period they ran a VIP special train on the Kansas Pacific line to show it off as a route to the then new Denver International Airport. Same railroad as the former North Western lines of Metra, different corporate presidents.
 

railiner

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Ironically, I just tossed out the attractive UP folder and white paper about the value of providing commuter rail service on existing (UP) lines. It was prepared for the development of LA Metrolink, but in the same period they ran a VIP special train on the Kansas Pacific line to show it off as a route to the then new Denver International Airport. Same railroad as the former North Western lines of Metra, different corporate presidents.
But...did the paper say whether UP would just provide the infrastructure, or run a 'turn-key' operation? If the latter, then I would agree about a change in attitude from back then. Could be, that UP would get a much more favorable return on a proposed new service, as compared to the one they 'inherited' from the North Western...
 

Willbridge

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But...did the paper say whether UP would just provide the infrastructure, or run a 'turn-key' operation? If the latter, then I would agree about a change in attitude from back then. Could be, that UP would get a much more favorable return on a proposed new service, as compared to the one they 'inherited' from the North Western...
If I recall correctly, they were kind of vague in the literature. They probably wanted to feel the situation out.
 

Seaboard92

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Locally funded commuter trains can aid a freight line because of the higher standard of maintenance required to run them, and generally generous subsidies provided by the local governments to help maintain the track. So there is an incentive for UP and other railroads to actively try and convince municipalities to want commuter service on their lines.
 

Nick Farr

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PSR in it's original intents should have improved the life of the railroaders and the customer but now it doesn't. Take for instance my home line the CSX Hamlet Sub. We once had a thru freight train that ran from Cayce, SC to Hamlet, NC the average run time was four hours one way. Now due to PSR the train instead of taking the direct route now runs via Sumter, SC and Florence, SC and has lengthened the trip to 10 hours. Now the Hamlet sub just sees freight on it's first thirty miles and Amtrak overnight on weekends. It's not a functional plan.
The whole point behind PSR was to bring better fuel and operating efficiency. Is there freight going from Cayce to Hamlet that needs to be there in four as opposed to 10 hours? Isn't it more efficient to run one longer train through a more circuitous route as opposed two more direct ones? If the oddball route means they're spending less overall to get each car to where it's supposed to go, why does it matter?

As far as the original topic, why shouldn't UP be able to give up a service they don't want to provide? Granted, they shouldn't be allowed to terminate it unilaterally--but why not just let Metra assume all the services from the railbed up?
 

neroden

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I don't know the legality of the issue, but I don't think the UP should be forced to run a business it does not want to,
Well, that's not how federal law works. They are forced to. They are operating this service under the original common-carrier law. Just like utility companies are required to provide service to anyone in their chartered area.

If they want to get out of that obligation, they have to pay through the nose to get out of it, like other railroads did...

just so long as they provide Metra with the infrastructure to run it itself, as well as a reasonable time for Metra to assume that capability. If Metra can do it on the other railroads, they can do it on UP's railroad.
And Metra's willing to, but UP has apparently been totally unreasonable in negotiations. UP is trying to break the law rather than buying their way out of their obligations as they should. Metra could certainly use the money.

Further...if the court rules in Metra's favor, and the UP is forced to run the service as a 'common carrier', I think the UP should say fine, we'll run it, and then throw Metra the heck off its property, and run the entire operation under their own name, and with their own equipment, and do it much better than Metra would ever...
If UP were capable of doing that they would have long ago. They don't know how to run a railroad any more. Ask their freight customers.
 

John Bredin

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As far as the original topic, why shouldn't UP be able to give up a service they don't want to provide? Granted, they shouldn't be allowed to terminate it unilaterally--but why not just let Metra assume all the services from the railbed up?
That would probably work just fine on the North Line and the Northwest Line, which carry little freight. But I doubt UP would be happy with Metra scheduling or dispatching the freight-heavy West Line.
 
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