As late as 1972, nine separate private railroads provided commuter rail service in the Chicago area. One line, originally operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad to and from Valparaiso, Indiana, was never part of Metra and was discontinued in 1991.

The eight remaining commuter rail operations eventually all became parts of Metra. All operating under the Metra name, except for the South Shore Line which primarily serves Indiana. Some lines became directly and completely owned by Metra. While with other lines, the private railroads continue to have varying roles in the actual operation of trains. In 1996, Metra opened a new line, the North Central Service.

Union Pacific (3 lines)
Purchase of Service Agreement with Union Pacific
Previous operating railroad: Chicago & North Western (1848-1995)
Chicago-yard: California Avenue (opened 1926) (located along Geneva Subdivision)
Locomotive shops: Keeler Avenue (opened 1948) (located along Geneva Subdivision)

Milwaukee District (2 lines)
Metra ownership (dispatched by Canadian Pacific)
Previous operating railroad: Milwaukee Road (1873-1982)
Chicago-yard/shops: Western Avenue (opened 1926)

Rock Island District
Metra ownership
Previous operating railroad: Rock Island (1852-1980)
Chicago-yard/shops: 47th Street ("Rocket House") (opened 1950)

Burlington Northern Santa Fe
Purchase of Service Agreement with BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe)
Previous operating railroad: Burlington Route (1864-1970)
Previous operating railroad: Burlington Northern (1970-1996)
Chicago-yard/shops: 14th Street (opened 1920's/new 1989 building owned by Metra)

South West Service (north)
Metra ownership
Previous operating railroad: Chicago & Western Indiana (1880-1994)
Chicago-yard/shops: 14th Street (opened 1920's/new 1989 building owned by Metra/operated by BNSF)

South West Service (south)
Metra leases from Norfolk Southern/maintained by Metra/dispatched by Norfolk Southern
Previous operating railroad: Wabash (1880-1964)
Previous operating railroad: Norfolk & Western (1964-1982)
Previous operating railroad: Norfolk Southern (1982-1993)

Heritage Corridor
Trackage Rights Agreement with CN
Previous operating railroad: Chicago & Alton (1864-1947)
Previous operating railroad: Gulf Mobile & Ohio (1947-1972)
Previous operating railroad: Illinois Central Gulf (1972-1987)
Previous operating railroad: Illinois Central (1987-1998)
Chicago-yard/shops: Western Avenue (Milwaukee District)

Electric District
Metra ownership
Previous operating railroad: Illinois Central (1856-1972)
Previous operating railroad: Illinois Central Gulf (1972-1987)
Chicago-yard/shops: 18th Street (opened 1925)
Heavy repair facility: Kensington Yard (opened 1993)

North Central Service
Trackage Rights Agreement with CN
Previous operating railroad: Wisconsin Central (1996-2001)
Service introduced: 1996
Chicago-yard/shops: Western Avenue (Milwaukee District)

South Shore Line
Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District ownership
Previous operating railroad: Chicago Lake Shore & South Bend (1904-1925)
Previous operating railroad: Chicago South Shore & South Bend (1925-1989)
Shops: Michigan City


The various Metra lines are operated under three basic types of arrangements:

Purchase of Service Agreement
The private railroad or successor railroad would continue to operate the commuter trains, subsidized by Metra or earlier by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA). That railroad would continue to employ the engineers and conductors operating the trains, and employ all shop personnel and operate the shops where cars and locomotives are maintained. The operating railroad also would employ the ticket agents, and tickets purchased by check would need to be payable to that railroad. The operating railroad also continued to be responsible for maintenance and dispatching of that trackage. After the RTA was created in 1974, Purchase of Service Agreements were signed with all Chicago area commuter railroads, with the assumption was that they would remain permanent. But for various reasons, service on most Metra lines continued under different arrangements. With only Union Pacific (formerly Chicago & North Western) and BNSF (Formerly Burlington) continuing with Purchase of Service Agreements.

Metra Ownership
After the bankrupt Rock Island railroad ceased to operate in 1980, commuter service continued for a year under Chicago & North Western Railroad management. But in 1981, C&NW decided it was no longer interested in managing the operation. The RTA thus had no choice but to form the Northeast Illinois Railroad Corporation (NIRC), as an agency to operate the service. NIRC became part of Metra in 1983, under the RTA reorganization which formed the Metra entity. This would be a full operating railroad, with Metra employing all engineers, conductors, shop personnel, ticket agents, dispatchers, tower operators, and maintenance of way personnel for the line. In 1987, Metra expanded its direct operations by acquiring the commuter operations from the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad. The former Illinois Central electric commuter line had its own set of tracks separate from main line, making it simple for Metra to assume full direct ownership and operation.

Trackage Rights Agreement
With this arrangement, Metra would employ all engineers, conductors, shop personnel, and ticket agents. But the freight railroad would continue to operate the line, employing all dispatchers, tower operators, and maintenance of way personnel. In 1982, the bankrupt Milwaukee Road became the first commuter line with such an arrangement. Metra assumed ownership and maintenance of the Milwaukee Road trackage in 1985, when the Milwaukee Road was acquired by the Soo Line. But the Soo Line, later Canadian Pacific, retained the dispatching functions of most of the trackage. Metra subsequently entered into Trackage Rights Agreements with two lines which eventually became part of CN. In 1987 between Chicago and Joliet via the former Alton/Gulf Mobile & Ohio, then renamed the Heritage Corridor. And in 1996, with the new North Central Service, utilizing what was the Wisconsin Central Railroad.

The arrangement with the Metra South West Service is slightly complicated. Trackage between 21st St. and 74th St. had been the Chicago & Western Indiana Railroad, historically jointly owned by the Wabash and other railroads historically using Dearborn Station. Metra eventually assumed ownership and direct operation of that segment. But Wabash successor Norfolk & Western and later Norfolk Southern crews continued to operate the trains between Chicago and Orland Park until 1993. Metra then leased the trackage west of 74th St. from Norfolk Southern, assumed the maintenance responsibilities for the line, and began employing the train crews. Norfolk Southern would continue to dispatch the line from Landers Yard.

Several Metra lines serve Chicago Union Station, which is owned and operated by Amtrak. With Metra trains accessing the station via Trackage Rights Agreements.

The South Shore Line, primarily an Indiana operation, in 1989 was acquired by the public Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, for direct operation.