Metra sues Union Pacific over pandemic fare collection practices

Oct. 15, 2020
Metra says UP damaged its bottom line and reputation, but UP says the revised fare collection practices boosted employee and rider safety and health.

Metra filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against Union Pacific Railroad (UP) for breach of contract stemming from the freight railroad’s fare collection practices along three Metra service lines: UP North, UP Northwest and UP West.  

Metra says UP damaged its bottom line, reputation and customer experience when it refused to deploy its conductors on the three Metra lines owned and operated by UP.

“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.”

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and a permanent injunction that UP conductors and onboard personnel resume carrying out all of their required duties, including selling and validating tickets and making repeated passes through the cars to assist customers and promote orderly conduct.

UP-Metra PSA primer

The Chicago region’s rail network is among the most complex in the world with much of Metra’s lines of service operating on leased track. UP owns the UP North, Northwest and West lines and the freight railroad is contracted by Metra under a purchase of service agreement (PSA) to operate the service using UP employees.

Metra explains 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 Metra’s own practices and procedures. This PSA is set to expire at the end of 2020 and UP notes its agreement with Metra is unique in that the freight railroad does not use its own employees to operate or maintain passenger operations anywhere else.

The PSA is not unusual for Metra, which has a similar agreement with another Class 1 freight railroad, BNSF, on Metra’s BNSF Line.

A difference in fare collection practices 

Metra, like other daily transportation providers, stopped collection of tickets onboard vehicles on all lines during the early stages of the pandemic. Also, like other daily transportation providers, Metra took the needed steps to boost worker and rider safety by following CDC and health official guidance to adopt new cleaning protocols, mandate the wearing of face coverings and encourage physical distancing.

According to Metra, conductors on eight other Metra lines (including the BNSF Line) returned to their required duties and have been safely performing them since June. Metra says UP refused the passenger railroad’s repeated requests to require its conductors to start working the trains again. UP conductors were stationed in the front and rear rail cars to ensure safe boarding, operate the trains doors and provide ADA assistance.  

Metra references UP’s own practices and procedures that dictate 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.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.

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