Metra needs a Flyover at A-2 Crossing

A view from the rear window of a train with A-2 Crossing in the foreground and the Chicago skyline in the background.
A Milwaukee District train passing through A-2.

A Milwaukee District train passing through A-2. photo: Joseph Cermak

Metra’s A-2 Crossing is likely the biggest bottleneck in the Midwest passenger rail network.

A new bridge to allow trains from Union Station to “flyover” trains from Ogilvie Transportation Center is needed.

Located two miles from Union Station at Western Ave. and Kinzie St., A-2 is where Union Pacific-owned tracks from Ogilvie Transportation Center cross Metra-owned tracks from Union Station. It is one of the busiest and most complicated rail intersections in North America with 350 trains crossing paths here every day.

A map showing that Metra's Milwaukee North, Milwaukee West, North Central and UP West lines cross through A-2 Crossing. Empty trains from the UP North, UP Northwest, Heritage and Southwest routes pass through it to get serviced in the yards.Over 51,000 daily passengers on seven of Metra’s eleven routes and another 3,700 on Amtrak rely on A-2 working smoothly, but the track layout and switching equipment are over eighty years old, and replacement parts are hard to find.

The crossing is destined to become much busier. Metra wants to expand the UP West line. Illinois and Wisconsin are planning for more Amtrak trains to Milwaukee. Future O’Hare express and high-speed trains will pass through A-2 as well.

Today, A-2 is like two interstate highways meeting at a stoplight.

There are a number of options to improve the A-2 crossing with a range of costs and benefits.

The most expedient option is to update the switching equipment to modern standards retaining the existing track plan. A variant of this proposal would be to move the crossing one-mile east to simplify the train movements. Neither of these options allows for future growth.

Swapping terminals is an important part of the solution. Milwaukee District trains would move from Union Station to Ogilvie and the UP West trains would switch to Union Station. Conflicting movements through the crossing would be dramatically reduced.

A diagram showing how the tracks from Union Station cross the tracks from Ogilvie Station at grade.Swapping terminals will not completely eliminate conflicting movements. Amtrak, as well as future airport express and high-speed trains, will still need to cross over. Additionally, the two maintenance yards are different sizes and the Union Pacific yard is much bigger so empty moves from Ogilvie to the yard will still crossover as well.

The most desirable solution is to build a bridge to allow trains from one line to “flyover” the other without stopping. Although a flyover will require a more substantial investment, it is the only way to significantly increase capacity and improve reliability. Trains will also be able to travel at higher speeds as they approach and cross A-2.

There is demand to expand service on all of the corridors that pass through A-2, but the crossing
is currently at capacity.

Additionally, GOTO2040, the region’s master plan as developed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, calls for doubling weekday transit trips from 2 million to 4 million trips. Metra will need to double its service to help meet this goal. A new at-grade crossing simply cannot accommodate twice as many trains as A2 handles today.

With a flyover, Metra can expand service, reduce delays, and better serve its riders. A flyover is required to meet CMAP’s objectives.

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