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Union Pacific: Ravenswood Station Move Not A Done Deal

An interview with Union Pacific Railroad spokesman indicates that the company may not accept an agreement between Ravenswood neighbors, Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th) and Metra, to rebuild the Ravenswood Metra station at its current location, which is south of Lawrence Avenue.

Thomas Zapler, director of Public Affairs for Union Pacific Railroad, told the Bulldog last week the railroad is reluctant to accept a key feature of the agreement: building the station platform over the viaduct at Leland. Zapler explained the bridge would cost significantly more to maintain over its life if there is a station over it.

The new Ravenswood station is part of a shovel-ready, $185 million project, being funded in part by the America Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

Schulter said the infrastructure project is the largest such project in the history of the 47th Ward. Eleven bridges on the Union Pacific North Metra line will be replaced in the first four years of the project. All the bridges are in the Ravenswood neighborhood. Starting in 2014 eleven additional bridges would be rebuilt south of the Ravenswood neighborhood.

In addition, the Ravenswood station, currently a simple platform without protection from the elements, would be rebuilt. Metra indicated the new station would have an office for a ticket agent, room for vendors, and be larger and offer greater protection from the weather than the current station.

As reported last week in The Bulldog, neighbors worked with Schulter to gain his approval of a plan to build the replacement station at the current location. Metra has acquiesced to this plan; however, Metra Media Relations Manager Michael Gillis indicated to the Bulldog, that the decision ultimately lies with Union Pacific.

Union Pacific indicated it will make a decision on or around Labor Day, as plans need to move quickly on the project. Zapler though, was not encouraging regarding the move.

“It is more difficult to maintain a platform on a bridge because of the drainage,” he told the Bulldog.

Zapler noted that Metra believes the Ravenswood station is the second busiest station on the Union Pacific North line. The new station would accommodate eight car trains, longer than the current platform.

“The engineers say look at what happened to these bridges,” Zapler said. He indicated that the bridges built under stations have a significantly higher cost over their life.

The current bridges are of an indeterminate age. A Union Pacific spokesmen said they believe some tracks may have been built as early as 1880, with the latest coming on line as late as 1918. The bridges are made of high carbon steel, which sets a technological date for their age as such steel was widely discontinued for construction after World War I, according to engineers on the project.

Metra plans for the Ravenswood Station on the UP North line.
Metra plans for the Ravenswood Station on the UP North line.

The Union Pacific and Metra say the current bridges are in good condition, although they are built without a base, being laid on the ground. The bridges were built to comply with a 19th Century city ordinance, which required railroads to be raised above street level, according to Metra sources.

Although Zapler indicated the railroad wants to work with residents, and local non-government organizations to save the vegetation along the right-of-way, the current station plan, if implemented north of Lawrence, would see many of the trees along Ravenswood Avenue removed for the station construction.

In other areas, where the railroad retaining wall is rebuilt, gardeners and the railroad expect the vegetation to take a major hit. The issue of the plant destruction and the movement of the station north of Lawrence are two key issues forcing the challenge to the station by the new Ravenswood Neighbors Association.

As noted in The Bulldog, the Ravenswood Neighbors Association threatened to derail the plan, citing the residential nature of North Ravenswood Avenue from Foster north.

However, Eli Suzikovich, a gardener at the American Indian Center, looks forward to having a clean slate after the construction for a planned garden along the railroad right-of-way. The center wants to restore the right-of-way to the way it may have looked in 1868, he said.

“It’s an open canvas,” he said, and added that the American Indian Center is excited. “It makes our job easier.”

Schulter said the right-of-way reconstruction is an effort going back to the “Greening of Ravenswood” effort, about 25 years ago. He said Metra first introduced a plan to rebuild the Ravenswood bridges about 19 years ago; however, the plan was shelved due to a lack of funding.

Schulter praised the efforts of Greening of Ravenswood for restoring an eyesore along the tracks to an amenity in the neighborhood.

“I wish we had more time to work on the train station(with neighbors),” Schulter told the Bulldog last week. Schulter said neighbors first knew of the Metra plan about 19 months ago.

“I was never thrilled with moving (the Ravenswood Station),” Schulter said. “I always felt it should be (re)built where it is now.”

Schulter said plans for the station were revealed as quickly as they were known.

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