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Metra pins its hopes on state/ federal funding action
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/15/2008 12:03 AM

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Metra leaders forged ahead with multi-million-dollar plans for capital improvements and new equipment Friday even as they acknowledged their hopes may never materialize.

Metra directors approved a $641.7 million operating budget, to cover expenses such as salaries and fuel, in addition to a $203.4 million capital budget

And - in an ambitious move - the board agreed to seek proposals from suppliers in order to purchase $725 million worth of new locomotives and train cars to replace outdated equipment.

But officials recognized that without Congress acting on significant funding for transportation and the Illinois General Assembly rising above its gridlocked status quo, their optimism could be moot.

"Our operating budget is solid," Executive Director Phil Pagano said. "But without a (state) capital bill, our capital budget will need major modifications."

Others said while they had confidence in the federal government securing funding, they feared the state would drop the ball.

"Without a capital bill, a lot of the things we're talking about will never come to fruition," said Director Mike Smith, who represents McHenry, Will and Kane counties.

For 2008, Metra budgeted $596 million for operating expenses and is expected to spend $613.5 million. One significant cost overrun came from increases in diesel fuel. The agency projected it would spend $67 million on diesel while the actual number is closer to $87 million.

The capital budget includes $16.7 million for work on stations and parking, $14.5 million for train rehabilitation and $12.6 million for railway ties and ballast.

The agency's budget does not include a fare increase for 2009 as it already raised rates by 10 percent in February.