Improvements to Metra's Union Pacific West Line this spring and summer run the gamut from expediting freight trains to stopping pedestrians from zipping around lowered crossing gates.
The joint Metra/Union Pacific Railroad project started in 2009 and will finish in 2011, but commuters in DuPage and Kane counties should see some significant changes this year, officials said at a Friday meeting.
The West Line between Union Station and Elburn is UP's gateway to Chicago, serving about 25 percent of its freight. It's also one of Metra's busiest lines with 60 commuter trains daily competing with 40 to 60 freight trains.
Union Pacific gives precedence to Metra trains during morning and afternoon rush hours, which means "freight trains are backed up to Iowa," Deputy Executive Director of Operations Bill Tupper said.
The infrastructure fixes include: modernizing signals between Elmhurst and West Chicago to allow trains to run closer together; installing two crossovers - switches connecting parallel tracks - at Lombard and Wheaton; and constructing triple tracks in sections where it's just two tracks between River Forest and Elmhurst as well as West Chicago and Geneva.
"This will increase the fluidity of the line," Tupper said.
To save pedestrians from themselves, Metra plans to erect fencing alongside crossing gates so people can't skirt the barriers. Fencing will also go up beyond the platform areas.
"This will reduce the opportunity for pedestrians to enter the track area at unauthorized locations," Tupper said.
Work on the safety measures should finish up this year at stations in Elmhurst, Villa Park, Glen Ellyn, College Avenue, Winfield and Geneva.
More significant changes involving a pedestrian tunnel in Lombard and overhead bridge in Wheaton will be completed in 2011.
In addition, signs advising commuters when another train is approaching will be installed along with an audible warning system.
Metra and UP are splitting the cost of the $112 million upgrade.