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Metra: No fare hikes in 2013 unless economy tanks

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Updated: December 14, 2012 2:03AM

CHICAGO ­­— Metra will hold public hearings on its budget from Nov. 1 through Nov. 8 across the six-county region.

The Metra board will vote on a final budget at the November board meeting after the commuter rail agency unveiled its $713.5 million budget Friday which doesn’t include a fare increase, but there are several scenarios in which it might be the best option, the agency said.

The scenarios revealed Metra could net $3 million for its capital program by hiking the price of 10-ride and monthly tickets by 1 percent or more.

A bad economy would mean sales tax and revenue money would be down and “could cause a fare action in 2013 to maintain service levels and cash levels,” Lynette Ciavarella, Metra’s capital planning director said.

Next year’s budget is 3.9 percent higher than the 2012 budget. Of the total, $310.2 million of operating funding will come from fares.

Some major projects planned for next year include replacing deteriorated locomotives and cars, an $18 million effort, as well as $19.2 million to continue the process of implementing so-called “Positive Train Control.”

Metra has until the end of 2015 to implement the technology across the system, as it is federally mandated. Experts argue the system could prevent derailments and other crashes caused by engineer error.

Spokesman Michael Gillis said the process of installing the system is “incredibly complex and costly” but that “we are working on it and we are fully committed to having it done by 2015.”

The implementation involves the use of GPS satellites and a system to monitor when a train has a missed signal, may be traveling too fast or is in danger of colliding with another train. The system would override the train engineer in such cases.

It would help in terms of signals, and if an engineer surpassed a speed limit, it would be able to brake the train, Gillis said.

Metra is using federal money for the project, and hoping to get state bonds to help cover the costs. The installation ranges from $150 to $200 million to cover the entire system.

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