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Metra is resuming engineering and environmental studies to extend the BNSF Line past Aurora, Ill., following a suspension of the work last year.In June 2015, the commuter railroad temporarily put the studies on hold to determine if there was consensus among local officials to spend the remaining $6.6 million in planning and design funds on the extension instead of other infrastructure needs in the area. Because Metra faces $11.7 billion worth of state of good repair needs over the next decade, the agency is unable to fund construction on the extension, Metra officials said in a press release.The project could cost more than $200 million.However, local leaders have demonstrated "widespread support" for continuing the studies, which would require the creation of an additional dedicated funding stream provided by residents in Kendall County, Ill.The studies are expected to wrap up in about 18 to 24 months, Metra officials said. The goal of the studies is to determine the costs and potential environmental impact of the project so that local stakeholders in Kendall County can determine if and how they'll secure the necessary capital and operating funding needed to advance the project.Meanwhile, Metra yesterday announced that it has doubled its team of employees tasked with riding its trains to observe and report on conductor and ticket agent performance. The team, which will now expand from three members to six, will also monitor onboard and station amenities and customer interactions.Similar to "mystery shopper programs" used by retail outlets, the team rides anonymously, checks the condition of the rail cars for cleanliness and temperature control and determines if certain types of equipment are functioning properly. While not onboard Metra trains, the observation team checks the condition of stations and parking lots, along with the quality of platform announcements and ADA signage.In addition, monitoring fare collection practices will be a "high priority" for the team throughout the summer, Metra officials said. "We owe it to our customers to try to collect fares from everyone who uses our service," said Metra Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Don Orseno. "With cost estimates to achieve a state of good repair for our system over the next decade currently at $11.7 billion – now more than ever, we need to maximize critical fare revenue."
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