Posts Tagged ‘Metra’

South Shore to Lease Metra Cars

January 27, 2021

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District plans to lease 26 bi-level gallery cars from Chicago commuter rail operator Metra to handle increased South Shore Line commuter service.

NICTD said the increased service will occur as a result of the double tracking of the mainline between Gary and Michigan City, Indiana, and the West Lake Corridor expansion from Hammond to Dyer.

The lease will cost $3.5 million annually over 15 years. The leased cars were built between 2004 and 2006 and are similar in design to bi-level galley cars the South Shore currently operates.

Metra will refurbish the cars before South Shore takes delivery of them.

In a related development, the NICTD board  has approved a $17.1 million contract for engineering firm WSP to manage construction of the double track project.

NTSB Checks Off 3 PTC Recommendations

January 16, 2021

With the nation’s railroads having met a late 2020 deadline to install and begin using positive train control systems, the National Transportation Safety Board has checked three key PTC safety requirements off its to do list.

Those recommendations to Canadian National, CSX and Chicago commuter carrier Metra were related to equipping their trains with a PTC system.

In a news release, the NTSB said its recommendations to those railroads will be classified as “closed — acceptable action.”

The NTSB has long made installation of PTC one of its top priorities and it was shown on its 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.

The NTSB had recommended that CSX install a PTC system after a February 1996, collision between Amtrak and Maryland Rail Commuter passenger trains operating on CSX tracks near Silver Spring, Maryland, that left three crew members and eight passengers dead..

The Metra recommendation followed an October 2003 derailment that injured 47 and occurred as a train traveled 68 mph in a 10 mph zone.

The CN recommendation followed a head-on collision in July 2004 at Anding, Mississippi, that left four crew members dead.

“I’ve seen up close the devastation and heartbreak a rail catastrophe brings,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “We will silently mark our success with every train crash prevented, every life saved by this technology.”

F40s in Chicago

December 8, 2020

Over the years when I visited Chicago and its adjoining suburbs I often explored the commuter lines operated by Metra.

I spent some time at Rondout, Illinois, which was a junction of The Milwaukee Road, and the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern.

Overhead there used to be a bridge carrying the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee interurban railway branch that operated from Lake Bluff to Mundelein.

The North Shore, which ceased operation in January 1963, was famous for its Electroliners.

Two of those train sets still exist, including Nos. 801-802 at the Illinois Railway Museum and Nos. 803-804 at the Rockhill Trolley Museum adjacent to the East Broad Top in Pennsylvania. 

Also of interest in Rondout was a June 12, 1924, train robbery, the largest in U.S. history.

The Milwaukee Road’s Fast Mail was robbed by the Newton Gang and a corrupt postal inspector.

Over $2 million in cash, jewelry and securities were taken. All of the robbers were eventually caught and prosecuted. The stolen loot was recovered except for $100,000 of stolen goods.

Rondout was a commuter train stop until Nov. 22, 1984.

The top and middle photos were made from the commuter platform in September 1985.

The top image shows a Chicago-bound Amtrak Hiawatha led by an F40PH.

On the left of the photo can be seen the bridge abutment where the North Shore branch to Mundelein crossed over.

A bridge has since been built for the North Shore bike path, which occupies the former right of way.

Also off to the left past the signal bridge is where the Metra line to Fox Lake branches off. 

The middle image shows a commuter train led by an F40C crossing the EJ&E diamonds. It will cross over behind me to get to the Fox Lake branch.

These locomotives were operated by the Milwaukee Road and later Metra on commuter lines to Fox Lake and Elgin. In later years they were renumbered in the 600 series. 

The bottom photo was made from the rear of Amtrak’s Empire Builder at Western Avenue in Chicago during a trip to the Twin Cities on Aug. 27, 2007.

They are F40Cs 614 and 611 and were the last of their kind in revenue service.

I wonder why I find those roster numbers appealing.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas  

Bus Ridership Outpacing Rail in Public Transit

November 5, 2020
A Greater Cleveland RTA Blue Line train arrives at the Lee Road station.

An analysis published on the website of Trains magazine this week gave a sobering assessment of the future of commuter rail in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although ridership of public transit buses has begun to snap back from pandemic-induced doldrums, rail ridership continues to lag.

Transit officials attributed that to the nature of the ridership.

The bus rider is more likely to be someone of lower income who holds a job at which being physically present at a work site is mandatory.

Rail riders tend to be more affluent suburban residents who work in officers where the work can more easily be transferred to the employee’s home.

Transit officials have taken note of a trend by which office work will at significant levels continue to be done remotely well into 2021.

Even when that work is brought back into the office, transit officials are finding that those who once rode the train are more likely to drive to work because they value the privacy of their own motor vehicle.

 “COVID-19 reduced our ridership to the kind of the folks who are utterly dependent on transit,” said Steve Poftak, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Poftak said his agency’s buses are now handling 41 percent of 2019 passenger levels while rail commuter rail line ridership is 12 percent.

Similar stories are being told in other cities. Chicago Transit Authority bus ridership is now at 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels whereas Metra commuter rail passenger volume is 10 percent.

In Los Angeles the buses are seeing 50 percent of previous ridership while trains are at 10 percent.

New York City bus ridership is half of pre-pandemic levels while Metro North commuter train ridership is 16 percent.

The American Public Transportation Association said consolidated data from across the nation shows commuter rail ridership was down 90 percent during the April to June period while bus ridership was down 65 percent.

Even when companies do bring workers back into downtown offices, not all of them are no longer following the pre-pandemic norm of 9 to 5 shifts.

Instead, companies are having employees report to work at staggered start times and having them work from home on some days and in the office on others.

Some surveys have found widespread desire among office workers to have the option of working from home, including 75 percent in a study conducted by computer giant IBM.

That prompted Metra CEO to tell his board of directors that the rail agency must transform itself because if these trends continue to hold up Metra ridership will be affected in the long term.

Another transit executive, Catherine Rinaldi, president of New York’s Metro-North Railroad, said passengers who had been riding daily before the pandemic aren’t necessarily riding every day now.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this as an industry,” she said.

Some public transit officials say their future may lie in serving the needs of those who can’t work from home, who are employed at low-wage jobs, and may not own a car.

They are the workers who need public transit and where they need to travel may be where transit agencies will put their resources, including ramping up service on high-demand bus routes.

This may mean that some rail lines will lose priority and see reduced service. There will be fewer dollars available for expansion of rail service or capital improvements.

Disappearing Act in Chicago 1988

July 1, 2020

Led by a Burlington Northern E9A unit, a Metra train leaves Chicago Union Station. The E units continued in service through 1992.

After my visit out east with my sister, brother-in-law, T-1s 2102 and 2101, I boarded at Harrisburg a alumbercoach on Amtrak’s westbound Broadway Limited for a trip to Chicago to meet the late Bill Surdyk at Union Station.

We had a unique opportunity to see three baseball games in one day.

The Chicago Cubs were scheduled to play an afternoon doubleheader on May 24, 1988, with the Atlanta Braves due to a rainout the previous day. Usually the Cubs and White Sox are not in town at the same time.

However, today they were. As an added bonus the White Sox were playing our hometown Cleveland Indians that night.

To me it was an added bonus being a Tribe Trifecta.

The photos are all of things I miss from the 1980s that are no longer with us, thus the disappearing act.

Article and Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

The crowd enjoys a sunny day at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

Harry Caray calls the action.

The old Comiskey Park before the White Sox-Indians game on May 24, 1988.

Union Urges Caution Among its Members

June 25, 2020

A union representing track maintenance workers is urging its members to take precautions while working to avoid contracting COVID-19.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the Teamsters also took aim at Amtrak and Chicago commuter railroad Metra for being negligent in testing and tracing employees for COVID-19.

The union said there has been a rash of positive coronavirus cases among its members at several railroads, estimating 109 members have been affected by a coronavirus exposure.

Of those 15 individuals tested positive and remaining 94 are in a self-contained quarantine.

In a statement, union officials said doctors expect many of those in in quarantine will test positive in the coming days.

Those workers were employed by Amtrak, BNSF, CSX, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

Three union members have died from COVID-19.

The union said some of the spread of COVID-19 has come from post-work socializing. It urged its members to be more cautious by isolating and separating as much as possible.

“Go outside to hang out. Keep some distance,” the union told its members.

In the meantime, some union members have established informational picketing in front of the home of Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia.

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the passenger performs contact tracing in accordance with federal Center for Diseases Control guidelines and performs no-expense testing for those with symptoms or possible exposure.

However, the union said social distancing is often impossible in its work and it wants monthly testing as well as temperature screenings before work.

After accusing Metra of putting employees and passengers at greater risk, the rail commuter railroad said in a statement that the union’s views were “distorted.”

More Transit Agencies Join Horn Sounding Event

April 16, 2020

Additional commuter rail operators are joining in today’s “Sound The Horn” effort launched by Amtrak and New York-area transit agencies to honor transportation, health, and other essential workers who continue to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Operators of trains, buses and ferries will sound their horns today at 3 p.m. EDT to honor essential workers.

Among the public transit agencies joining the horn blowing event are Metra and the South Shore Line in Chicago, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia, and public transit agencies in Boston and Los Angeles.

Amtrak plans to hold a news media event as part of the event when the California Zephyr departs Chicago Union Station at 2 p.m. CDT.

South Shore Reduces Service Due to Pandemic

March 20, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Shore Line will implement on March 23 a temporary modified weekday train schedule.

The schedule will be essentially a modified weekend/holiday schedule with the addition of two morning and two afternoon rush hour trains. Weekend train schedules will remain unchanged.

In a notice posted on its website the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District said it has experienced a substantial drop in daily ridership.

The service reductions will seek to balance service with the reduced demand and include offering more railcars per train and all cars open to promote social distancing.

The agency also said it is conducting deeper cleaning of out-of-service equipment.

It also asked passengers to purchase tickets in advance through the South Shore mobile app, ticket vending machines, or ticket agents.

“Reducing or eliminating cash transactions with our train crews will help reduce our employees’ exposures relating to cash fare collections,” NITCD said.

NITCD said it understands that its still provides an essential public service that is used by healthcare professionals for travel to their essential assignments, and by passengers with previously scheduled medical appointments.

Service in service will be promptly posted at, on the South Shore Line Facebook and Twitter pages, on its mobile app, and via email notifications.

Chicago-area rail commuter operator also announced that starting March 23 it will reduce its service to account for lower ridership due to school closures, work-from-home mandates and other consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

The only line that will not see service cuts is the Heritage Corridor to Joliet.

Metra said it is monitoring ridership and may further reduce service to meet the ridership demands.

The reduced schedules will remain in effect until health officials deem the crisis has passed and/or ridership begins to return to normal. Metra will operate on regular weekend schedules this weekend.

4 Hurt in South Shore Derailment in Chicago

February 24, 2020

Four passengers suffered minor injuries when a South Shore train derailed while arriving at Chicago’s Millennium Station last Saturday morning.

The low speed derailment occurred just before 8 a.m.

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates South Shore Line trains, said the injured passengers were taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

The derailment resulted in minor delays to other South Shore and Metra commuter trains.

The South Shore uses Meta tracks in Chicago.

Oberman Nominated for STB Seat

July 7, 2018

Martin Oberman has been nominated to serve as a Democratic member of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

The White House announced the nomination on Thursday on its website.

Oberman is a former chairman of Chicago commuter railroad Metra.

Subject to being confirmed by the Senate, Oberman will fill the remainder of a five-year term expiring Dec. 31, 2023.

That seat was voluntarily vacated in 2017 by former Chairman Dan Elliott.

Oberman was among at least eight Democrats who were being considered for the last vacancy on the five-member regulatory board

He received strong support from the Rail Customer Coalition, an association of trade groups representing major freight rail users.

The 73-year-old Oberman is an attorney who served on the Chicago City Council before being named by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in September 2013 to a seat on the Metra board of directors.

Oberman was elected chairman in 2014, serving until last October.

He also serves on the board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and is a past general counsel to the Illinois Racing Board.

Oberman graduated from Yale University and earned his law degree from the University of Wisconsin.

Two Republicans, Patrick Fuchs and Michelle Schultz, are awaiting Senate confirmation for STB seats but have been approved by a Senator committee.

The STB currently has two members Republican Ann Begeman, who serves as STB chair, and Democrat Deb Miller.