LAKEVIEW — Metra’s overhaul of the Union Pacific North Line that will move train tracks closer to neighbors’ homes will now give residents a bit more space between their property lines and a new retention wall for the railroad.
Metra, which plans to replace 11 bridges between Fullerton Avenue and Cornelia Street while modernizing the railroad, announced the latest changes to its $337 million project in an email sent to neighbors Wednesday. The land encompassing the railroad project is owned by Union Pacific, which is in an agreement with Metra.
The project will shift tracks 20 feet west. Neighbors have spoken out against the project for moving the tracks closer to their homes and installing a retention wall even closer to them, removing trees and vegetation on the west side of the tracks in the process.
Metra now plans to build the retention wall 2 feet further east than originally planned, officials said. The railroad agency will also make landscaping improvements in some areas next to the railroad and restore the roadways and sidewalks beneath the bridges, officials said.
Other new improvements include new lighting under the Addison Street bridge to bring it up to par with the other bridges and additional safety barriers to the railroad’s retaining wall from Belmont Avenue to south of Diversey Parkway, Metra officials said.
The work, expected to run in phases from 2024 to 2028, is part of a larger project to modernize the entire UP North line. Metra has already replaced 11 bridges from Grace Street to Balmoral Avenue and started reconstructing the line’s Ravenswood Station, 4800 N. Ravenswood Ave.
Brenda Barrie, a neighbor who lives west of the railroad, said she welcomes the latest updates but thinks they don’t do enough to address neighbors’ concerns.
“I feel like it’s been a little bit of a lost cause, but I also think we’ve made some progress,” Barrie said. “The fact that they’ve even acknowledged that maintaining landscaping and bringing back trees is a priority they should put into their budget feels good.”
But neighbor Christie Calmeyn, who also lives west of the tracks, said the changes “don’t feel like an improvement at all.”
Calmeyn said she was frustrated the changes were made official on the project’s website before Metra consulted neighbors about them. The last community meeting about the project was held last summer.
“It hits the website, so it became public information and then we got a call from the [adjacent property owner liaison] saying she’d love to talk,” Calmeyn said. “This is after it’s already been decided.”
The tracks need to be shifted west because the bridges are being replaced in multiple stages to avoid any service disruption along the UP North line, Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis previously said.
There are two separate track lines for trains going in opposite directions, but a third track line will be built to the west before replacing the existing tracks, Gillis previously said. Once the third track is added and one of the existing tracks has been modernized, the third, older track line, will be demolished.
“This would allow Metra to maintain two-track operations during the planned five-year construction period,” Gillis previously said. “The option is preferred as it minimizes impacts, would not require the permanent acquisition of properties, minimizes costs and is the most feasible in terms of engineering, construction and duration of work.”
Some neighbors want Metra to explore alternatives to replacing the bridges that don’t involve shifting the tracks west.
“Ultimately, I’d love them to really reexamine how they can do this without moving the tracks further west,” Barrie said. “It impacts all these homes and tears down hundreds of trees.”
One alternative neighbors have suggested is a method known as rolling in the bridge, which involves building each of the 11 bridges next to the existing ones and rolling them into place during track outages, according to Metra.
But that strategy would further affect rail service because temporary earth retention and short temporary bridges known as jump spans would need to be constructed at each location, Gillis previously said.
Rolling in the bridges also would increase construction costs and the duration of the project due to additional construction stages that would be required, Gillis previously said.
“This option was eliminated as it would require multi-day train service outages and delays at each bridge location and would require more construction work on adjacent properties,” Gillis previously said. “This option is less feasible than others from an engineering and constructability perspective.”
Barrie said if the tracks absolutely must be relocated west, she’d like to see Metra make other changes to make the difference more bearable, such as modernizing the fleet to stop using diesel fuel or no longer running the midnight trains at full speed.
“If we’re truly not going to win and these tracks are going to be closer with all these trees coming down, I’m just hopeful there are little concessions they could make to say to us, ‘We know you’re concerned, so here are some ways to make this better for everyone.'”
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