When Metra and Amtrak unveiled plans in 2017 for a complete renovation of the Homewood train station, Amtrak’s portion of the project was fully funded. Metra’s was not.
So the future of the project was uncertain. On Oct. 10, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning board approved a $9.25 million grant to Metra, and that will enable construction to move forward.
For Homewood officials, who have been working for years with three railroads and other stakeholders to get the project going, the CMAP vote was welcome news, according to Assistant Village Manager Napoleon Haney. “That’s the hurdle. Designing the project for construction is one thing, but to have it fully funded for construction is another. We’re fully funded.”
Before work on the station can begin, however, ComEd power lines have to be moved. That part of the project started in August, when Homewood Public Works removed a number of parkway trees along the west side of Park Avenue to make way for new utility poles. More work needs to be done. Haney said he met with representatives from ComEd and the railroads on Oct. 10 to discuss the details of the power line move and the plan was essentially settled then.
“Some of this work is contingent on Metra and Amtrak securing a nearby easement from Canadian National,” according to ComEd spokesman Tom Dominguez. “ComEd’s work is scheduled to be completed by December 2019.”
The cutover to the new lines is expected to involve some local power outages.
“We expect there to be some temporary outages to the area when Amtrak, Metra and Canadian National Railroad transfer their electric service to the new equipment,” Dominguez said. “As with any planned outage, ComEd will notify any customers impacted by the planned outage, and will work to minimize the length and number of outages to neighboring homes and businesses.”
After the power line project is finished, construction on the station itself can move forward. Another phase will involve moving the old Illinois Central engine and caboose featured in the rail park just west of the Metra platform. The Amtrak part of the project includes installing a ramp to make its platform more accessible from the west side of the station.
“That’s a really great public benefit,” said Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld. “How many times have you seen people walking down those stairs dragging suitcases. And people with disabilities get directed to go around to the east side, which isn’t much better.”
The total number of parking spots will remain the same as are currently available, but the future of the rail park is uncertain. The new ramp will displace 50 parking spaces in the south lot. To compensate, the engine and caboose will be moved north to allow 50 new spaces to be added to the north lot.
Hofeld said the engine and caboose will remain on display and will be accessible during special events, but the greenery of the park will have to be removed and there probably will not be space for the same park setting in the new location. He said the village advocated for restoring the park, but Metra’s need for parking spaces superceded the request.
Metra will be responsible for renovating the east side of the station. Spokesman Michael Gillis said the total cost for Metra’s portion will be about $11.5 million, with $9.2 million from the CMAP STP grant, $300,000 from Invest in Cook and the rest from Metra funds.
“There is no precise construction timeline yet, but the plan right now is for Amtrak to do the work on its depot and platform next year. Then Metra would do all its work starting in 2021,” Gillis said. “The station will remain open during construction, so customers will have to tolerate construction activity and inconvenience as the work proceeds in stages.
“We are excited that this project is funded and we are so close to starting this major rehabilitation and renewal project. The result will be a beautiful, comfortable, welcoming and accessible gateway to the village of Homewood and the Metra system.”