Metra today sued Union Pacific Railroad for breach of contract, accusing the freight railroad of severely damaging Metra’s bottom line, reputation and customer experience by an “arbitrary and capricious” refusal to deploy its conductors on the three lines that UP owns and operates in the Metra system.
In addition to monetary damages, the Cook County Circuit Court lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction demanding that UP conductors and onboard personnel resume carrying out all of their required duties, which include selling and validating all tickets and making repeated passes through the cars to assist customers and promote orderly conduct.
“We strongly disagree with how Union Pacific Railroad has been operating commuter service,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “We have given UP management numerous opportunities to provide the necessary level of service as on our other lines, but they have refused to address these issues in any meaningful way and have left us no recourse but to seek relief through the courts.”
UP owns the UP North, Northwest and West lines and is responsible for operating the commuter service over its tracks with its employees under a purchase of service agreement (PSA) with Metra. The PSA obligates UP to collect fares and validate tickets on the trains, operate the trains in accordance with state and federal safety standards and follow its own practices and procedures. UP’s own practices and procedures dictate that it is “critically important that trainmen make repeated passes through their assigned cars throughout the trip, in order to detect and observe medical emergencies, passengers needing assistance or information, the general orderly conduct of the train, and fare collection.”
In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the onboard collection of tickets was halted on all Metra lines, including those owned and operated by UP. Following the guidance of the CDC and other health officials, Metra then adopted new cleaning protocols, mandated the wearing of masks, encouraged physical distancing and took other steps aimed at making the trains safe for passengers and workers.
With those safety measures in place, conductors on the eight other Metra lines – including on the BNSF Line, which is owned and operated by BNSF Railway under a similar PSA with Metra – have been safely performing all of their required duties since June. However, UP has refused repeated requests from Metra to require its conductors to start working the trains again.
“Conductors at every other large commuter railroad in the country are collecting fares and working the railcars, following the recommendations of the CDC and health officials to do it safely.” Derwinski said “At a time when Metra’s essential workers are striving to maintain service for the region’s essential workers, UP is dodging its obligations and exempting its workers.”
Without Metra’s consent, UP implemented an alternative fare collection method in which tickets are being checked as customers get on or off trains departing from or arriving at the Ogilvie Transportation Center, the downtown terminal for the three UP lines. Metra told UP its plan was unsafe, unfeasible and ineffective and was not a substitute for abiding by the terms of the PSA. In fact, Metra believes the cost of paying UP to staff its alternative method may exceed the amount of fare revenue that UP’s staff collects.
Because of UP's refusal to deploy its conductors and its insufficient alternative, Metra has been losing fare revenue that would otherwise have been collected from passengers. Metra is asking the court to order UP to compensate Metra for the lost revenue. In addition, Metra has heard from dozens of passengers who feel the lack of conductors has resulted in the erosion of customer safety and security on the trains, and who object to UP’s alternative method, both of which have damaged the customer experience and Metra’s reputation.
“At the end of the day, without question, this is about our riders” Derwinski said. “There is absolutely nothing more important than providing them with timely and safe transportation. We will continue to fight on their behalf.”