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Metra won’t hike fares in 2019, but warns ‘drastic’ service cuts possible

Sun-Times file photo

Metra announced Wednesday that it will not raise fares in 2019 — but it also warned of “drastic” cuts to service down the line if the state won’t pony up new funds to pay for improvements.

Metra’s board voted unanimously against a fare hike to fund capital projects, deciding that “another fare increase for capital needs would overburden Metra’s customers after four straight fare increases,” the agency said in a statement.

Also, the revenue resulting from a fare hike would provide “only a fraction” of the money needed to fund shortfalls, Metra said.

Instead, the board made an appeal to the public to join them in calling on state lawmakers to provide Metra with new, sustained funding. Falling short, they said, would result in possibly shrinking the entire system.

“We ask our passengers and our elected leaders to join with us to tell our story to members of the state Legislature,” Metra Chairman Norm Carlson said in the announcement. “That story is very simple: Metra needs a sustained capital program to maintain its existing service levels in the 2020s. Otherwise, drastic changes in service levels may be needed to shrink to a size that existing resources can sustain.”

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.

The safety system remains on track and the board approved funds for buying locomotives during its meeting Wednesday, Metra said. However, new purchases will be smaller than the board anticipated unless new funding comes through.