New Start Process STAR Line SouthEast Service UP-NorthWest UP-West MetraConnects

Frequently Asked Questions for the UP-Northwest Line

What is the UP-NW Line?

The Union Pacific Northwest (UP-NW) Line extends 63 miles from Chicago northwest into McHenry County. The corridor passes through Cook, Lake and McHenry counties. The UP-NW Line serves 72 communities in parts of Cook, Lake and McHenry counties. UP-NW Line passengers make approximately 34,000 trips per weekday on 65 commuter trains.

Why is this project necessary?

There is an increasing demand for service in this region due to substantial residential growth. Employment in this segment is anticipated to increase more than 60 percent, and the UP-NW Line improvements will provide better access to major businesses in the corridor including Ameritech, GE Capital, Motorola, Affinia Corporation, Northern Illinois Medical Center, Northwest Community Hospital and United Parcel Service.

How will the UP-NW Line upgrade be funded?

The project has been authorized under the Safe, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). Additional funding will be sought under the next federal multi-year transportation authorization, anticipated to begin in 2011 or after.

In November 2001, through the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) transportation bill, Congress awarded Metra three Full Funding Grant Agreements for major new service projects. That funding led to the recently completed improvements on the North Central Service (NCS) and extensions to the Union Pacific West (UP-W) Line and the SouthWest Service (SWS). New service began on these lines in January of 2006, on-time and $50 million under budget. Our success under TEA-21 gives Metra confidence it will be successful in moving the SAFETEA-LU New Start projects forward through the federal process to further expand service in your community.

A viable capital and operating financial plan that incorporates Metra's existing system and the proposed expanded transit service will need to be developed. This plan will be based on the capital costs and operating cost estimates defined in the alternatives analysis and overall system operating and maintenance estimates. The plan will also make reasonable assumptions about the projected sources of capital and operating funds for the existing system and the expanded transit service including the local share needed to match any federal New Starts capital funds.

What state/federal guidelines are being followed?

Before Metra can implement any new service or expand existing service, projects must undergo several feasibility and environmental studies to ensure all federal and state guidelines are met. Metra must comply with the federal New Starts process which requires documentation and rigorous studies to justify these commuter rail alternatives best address the transportation needs and issues within the corridors. The first step in this process is called Alternatives Analysis.

What is Alternatives Analysis?

Alternatives Analysis is a bridge between systems planning, 'the idea,' and Preliminary Engineering (PE), 'how to build it.' It's where local, regional and federal governments work together to identify the transportation issues within a corridor, define the purpose and need for the transportation improvements, and develop and evaluate potential transportation alternatives to meet that need.

Although several of the communities along the proposed project corridors are undertaking, or have already completed, some studies of their own, Metra is mandated by law to take the proposed projects through an entire roster of studies, or Alternatives Analysis. Continuous public involvement and any information previously generated by the communities is an important part of the overall analysis, and Metra plans to build upon the data generated from these studies.

In 2007, Metra completed the Alternatives Analysis study identifying a Locally Preferred Alternative for the UP-NW Line Upgrade.

What are the next steps in this process?

Following, Alternatives Analysis, Metra is undertaking an Environmental Assessment. Engineering and construction will follow.

What would the UP-NW Line upgrade project entail?

The UP-NW project will add two new coach yard facilities in Woodstock and Johnsburg to permit more train capacity and expanded service. The project also includes three new stations to serve the fast-growing communities of Prairie Grove, Ridgefield, and Johnsburg. In order to serve the facilities in Johnsburg, the McHenry branch of the UP-NW Line will be extended 1.6 miles. The project will also upgrade the signal system to increase service, reduce travel times, and allow additional operational flexibility. Station and parking improvements are planned to accommodate increased ridership, and additional rolling stock will be procured to add capacity and increase service on the line.

How would the UP-NW Line rail alternative upgrade benefit commuters?

Successful implementation of the proposed improvements would increase UP-NW Line capacity thereby allowing more express train service which would improve travel times and enhance transit service for reverse commuters along the line.

How would service expand?

Metra would add seven additional inbound trains and four additional reverse-commute trains during the AM peak period to accommodate increased demand for trips to the Chicago Central Business District and to address the growing demand for reverse and inter-suburban commute service. Similar levels of service would be added in the PM peak period.

Will this impact our neighborhoods?

The project is being developed to minimize impacts to communities and the environment. Any potential impacts will be documented as part of the Environmental Assessment (EA) study and will be reported to the community as part of the public involvement process of the EA.

Will there be more bus service?

The project anticipates improved bus connections to employers and major activity centers in the UP-NW Line corridor. Metra will coordinate the details of these services with Pace and employers in the corridor during the engineering and construction phases of the project.

How will commuters be kept informed?

Metra will continue to keep commuters informed via our Website at

Did Metra hold public meetings about the UP-NW Line upgrade?

Metra held public meetings on each of the New Start projects, giving the public an opportunity to offer their input. A first round of public meetings was held in June 2006, and a second round was completed in July 2007. The boards and presentations for those meetings as well as the comments received at those meetings are found on the materials page.

How can I support the UP-NW Line upgrade?

We encourage you to support this project by staying involved and voicing your support to Metra and your elected officials. Public comments will be taken both through the above Website as well as at public meetings.

If approved, how long will this project take to complete once construction begins?

Engineering and Environmental phases of the project are slated to be completed in 3-4 years once a viable financial capital and operating plan is determined for the project. Construction could take 3-4 years after that. This schedule is dependent on numerous factors including obtaining the necessary approvals from the Federal Transportation Administration and successfully securing the funding needed to build and operate this project.