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Metra: Service alerts glitch is fixed

Metra announced this afternoon that it has fixed a “glitch” that has prevented it from sending out service alerts via email and Twitter for the past two days.
The outage affected about 100,000 Metra customers who have signed up to receive the alerts or tweets, the commuter rail agency said — in an emailed announcement.
The problem is thought to have been related to a queuing problem with the agency’s new email service, Metra said. Metra customers can sign up on the agency’s website for the alerts, which warn of delays, cancellations and other service problems.
“While it took longer than we wanted to resolve this glitch, we can now report that the Metra alert system is back online and fully functioning.” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno in a message to customers.
“We apologize for any inconvenience you experienced as a result of this problem.”

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Civic group: Boost gas tax for transportation

By Richard Wronski

An influential Chicago think tank/planning organization is urging the state’s gas tax be increased by 30 cents per gallon. Here are four reasons why:

  • Experts say Illinois needs to invest $43 billion over 10 years to improve roads, bridges and rail lines and tackle a maintenance backlog.
  • Estimates say motorists are already wasting more than that amount on vehicle repairs due to poor roads; time lost in congestion; and loss of population and jobs to neighboring states.
  • The state’s gas tax, currently at 19 cents per gallon, hasn’t been raised in 25 years.
  • The gas tax hike, along with an accompanying 50 percent increase in vehicle registration fees, would cost the average person $12.25 a month, or $147 a year. That’s about one  lunch tab a month or a Netflix charge, the argument goes.

The recommendation to begin “an honest conversation” on hiking the gas tax came Monday from the Metropolitan Planning Council, an independent, bipartisan, nonprofit civic group. MPC’s board consists of many movers and shakers from Chicago banks and businesses.

MPC issued a detailed analysis (http://metroplanning.org/transportation) of its proposal, which it said it compiled after a year’s worth of discussions with transportation officials and other experts.

It’s not the first call for an increase in the state’s gas tax to pay for transportation needs, either by the MPC or others. Just over a year ago, the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, an aggregation of interest groups ranging from labor unions to truckers to local chambers of commerce, urged an unspecified increase in the gas tax along with a…

NY’s ‘Streetfighter’ brings strategy to Chicago

IMG_0198 (2)By Richard Wronski/ Chicago Transportation Journal

“It’s a street fight,” says Janette Sadik-Khan. “It is a fight to make space for people. … It is a fight we can win and it is a fight we must win because when you change the street you change the world.”

Sadik-Khan served as New York City’s transportation commissioner from 2007 to 2013, a tenure that was both transformative and turbulent. She won international renown for her efforts to tame the city’s notoriously clogged streets, turning scores of traffic areas into pedestrian plazas and carving hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes.

But while many considered Sadik-Khan a visionary, others found her divisive. As a top commissioner under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, she was – like him — sometimes faulted for a “my-way-or-the-highway” style of leadership. Her programs drew frequent flak from politicians, businesses and community groups. As expected, the controversial Sadik-Khan was red meat for New York’s tabloids.  One columnist labeled Sadik-Khan the city’s “wacko nutso bike commissioner.”

Through it all, the outspoken Sadik-Khan never fled from a battle with a borough president or a clash with status-quo transportation doctrine. Thus, it’s no surprise she titled her new book, “Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution.”

Sadik-Khan spoke in Chicago Tuesday before more than 100 transportation officials and wonks as part of the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Urban Think & Drink series. It was clear many were fans.

For those not as familiar with Sadik-Khan, here are some takeaways from her address:

Transportation officials…

Pace has new bus/Metra strategy for DuPage

By Richard Wronski/ Chicago Transportation Journal

Pace has unveiled a new strategy to improve its DuPage County service, introducing a brand-new route along busy Ogden Ave. and restructuring several routes serving Metra stations. The plan would significantly increase the number of BNSF trains served by these restructured routes and give riders more flexibility, Pace said.

The strategy targets what transportation experts call the “last mile,” the gap between a commuter’s home and his/her mode of public transit. In suburbs like Naperville and Downers Grove, Pace tries to fill that gap with bus service to and from some of Metra’s most-used stations.

Pace’s plan, which the agency said represents a $1 million investment, could go into effect this June. But first, Pace will hold public hearings to discuss the proposed changes on March 29, 30 and 31. The affected communities include Naperville, Lisle, Downers Grove, Woodridge and Lombard.

These communities largely feed Metra’s busiest line, the BNSF, which carries some 64,000 riders each weekday on 94 trains.

Mike Bolton, Pace’s deputy executive director for strategic services, told the Chicago Transportation Journal that the changes came about through an ongoing analysis of ridership.

Using data from the new Ventra fare card and other programs, Pace found it could combine some portions of existing routes in both the morning and evening to get better ridership on the trips and we also meet more trains, Bolton said.

“We found that we could save some vehicles that we could then use for the Ogden route that we have wanted to put into place since the Southwest DuPage study that we did nearly 10…

Update: New Metra Heritage Corridor train rolls

By Richard Wronski / Chicago Transportation Journal

Riders on Metra’s Heritage Corridor line metralogocan now get home a little earlier each weekday.

On Monday, Metra inaugurated a 2:45 pm departure train from Union Station. The additional train boosts the number of Heritage Corridor runs from six to seven: three inbound morning runs and four outbound runs each weekday. The line has no weekend service.

The new train will make stops at Summit, Willow Springs, Lemont and Lockport before arriving at its final destination in Joliet at 3:50 p.m.

The Heritage Corridor is Metra’s least-used line, with only 2,400 weekday riders. By contrast, the Electric District line has 170 weekday trains carrying 33,500 riders, and the BNSF Line operates 94 weekday trains, with nearly 64,000 riders.

Metra CEO/Executive Director Don Orseno said the additional train provides more convenience and options for southwest suburban customers.

The new service is the result of years of effort by Metra and elected officials along the route to bolster the Heritage Corridor, Orseno said. The new service required agreements from the Canadian National Railway Co., which owns the tracks and operates freight service on the line, and Amtrak, which owns Union Station.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), whose district includes much of the Heritage Corridor, has pressed CN for years to allow Metra to add service. In 2013, Lipinski said he was so frustrated with CN that he considered introducing legislation to force the railroad to allow more Metra trains.

Lipinski told the Chicago Transportation Journal he was pleased with CN’s decision but said it was “not…

Metra adding service to Heritage Corridor line

By Richard Wronski / Chicago Transportation Journal

After years of complaints about scant train service, riders on Metra’s Heritage Corridor line are finally getting a break: One new daily train.

Starting March 14, Metra will add a 2:45 pm departure train each weekday from Union Station, Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno announced Wednesday.

The additional train will boost the number of Heritage Corridor runs from six to seven: three inbound morning runs and four outbound runs each weekday. The line has no weekend service.

The Heritage Corridor is Metra’s least-used line, with only 2,400 weekday riders. By contrast, the Electric District line has 170 weekday trains carrying 33,500 riders, and the BNSF Line operates 94 weekday trains, with nearly 64,000 riders.

The new 2:45 pm train will make stops at Summit, Willow Springs, Lemont and Lockport before arriving at its final destination in Joliet at 3:50 p.m.

Orseno said the additional train will provide more convenience and options for southwest suburban customers.

The new service is the result of years of effort by Metra and elected officials along the route to bolster the Heritage Corridor, Orseno said. The new service required agreements from the Canadian National Railway Co., which owns the tracks and operates freight service on the line, and Amtrak, which owns Union Station.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, whose district includes much of the Heritage Corridor, has pressed CN for years to allow Metra to add service. In 2013, Lipinski said he was so frustrated with CN that he considered introducing legislation to force the railroad to allow more Metra trains.

On Wednesday, Lipinski said…

Wi-Fi finally on Metra, but only a test

image006By Richard Wronski / Chicago Transportation Journal

Want free Wi-Fi on your next Metra ride? Good luck and keep your eyes peeled.

After struggling to offer the amenity for years, Metra has announced it is running one Wi-Fi-equipped rail car on each of its 11 lines as part of a pilot program to test whether the commuter rail agency can provide dependable, free Internet access.

The only problem will be catching the cars with the mobile “hot spot.”

Metra says it will run the Wi-Fi cars several times a day on each line, but amid at least 800 coach and Highliner cars running on 700 trains a day, the hot spots might be a bit hard to find.

To make it easier, Metra says it will post signs on the Wi-Fi cars and position them at the end of the trains, opposite the locomotives. Conductors will also announce if their trains have a Wi-Fi car.

Metra says hot spot usage will be limited, generally to a one megabyte download speed per user.

This will allow users to check email and browse the Internet, but isn’t intended for streaming video, Metra warns. In addition, the agency cautions that there may be “dead zones” along the routes.

Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno said customers are urged to provide feedback at www.metrarail.com/wifisurvey

“If it’s financially feasible and our customers like the free service, our agency would seek funding or sponsorships to install Wi-Fi on more of Metra’s railcars,” Orseno said.

To access the free Wi-Fi, riders…

Update: Metra says service restored on UP West Line after fire

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Metra said early Thursday that the Union Pacific has completed repairs to a signal facility that was damaged by a fire Tuesday and that it expects to run normal weekday schedule on the UP West Line today.

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Metra on Wednesday issued this update to Union Pacific West Line customers inconvenienced by Tuesday’s facility fire:

“Repairs continue today to a facility that controls the switches and signals in the vicinity of 25th Avenue between the Melrose Park and Berkeley Stations. The facility was damaged in a fire Tuesday morning and is on track to be rebuilt and back in service by midday Thursday.
“Until then, all UP West Line trains, including 60 Metra commuter trains and all freight traffic, must stop, get permission to proceed and then travel at restricted speeds through the two-mile area. Based on our experience with the rush periods on Tuesday night and this morning, we have reduced the expected delays to trains passing through the affected area to up to 20 minutes from up to 30 minutes.
“Therefore, while most inbound and outbound trains are expected to depart on time, they could incur delays of up to 20 minutes en route until the afternoon rush hour on Thursday, Feb. 11. Departures later in the rush hour will be delayed because the train sets used in those trips will have been slowed passing through the affected area during earlier rush-hour trips.
“For this (Wednesday) evening’s rush hour, the following changes will be made:
·…

Airline lost your luggage?

Notes on transportation: Lost luggage, cell phones on flights, Obama’s oil tax. When the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meets on Thursday, it is expected to consider a bill to extend funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, including some measures that would delight many air travelers.

One provision would ban cell phone calls on flights and another would allow passengers on domestic flights to recover checked baggage fees if the airline does not deliver their luggage in 24 hours. The FAA measure isn’t given much chance in this lame duck year by Washington observers, but Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski, the sponsor of the provisions, is undeterred.

“Right now, passengers who go through the inconvenience of lost and delayed baggage do so without the right to a refund,” said, Lipinski, a committee member.  “My legislation is just common sense.  If you pay for a service, you should get that service or get your money back.”

Meanwhile, President Obama is proposing his lame-duck budget Tuesday, which includes more than $300 billion over a decade for infrastructure improvements. The measures would be paid for with a $10-a-barrel oil fee, but Republicans say that has zero chance of happening.

Rauner pushes plan for tolls on I-55

By Richard Wronski

Chicago Transportation Journal

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s efforts to end the political bottleneck in Springfield have stalled so far, but he might have better luck with a new proposal to ease the chronic traffic jams on the Stevenson Expressway (Interstate 55).

Flanked by state legislators from both parties, Rauner on Thursday announced support for a plan to widen 25 miles of I-55 with so-called “managed lanes.”  Under the concept known as congestion pricing, these lanes would be tolled, depending on the amount of traffic, and could be used by carpoolers.

Rauner called for exploring a so-called Public Private Partnership, or P3, between the Illinois Department of Transportation and private investors to develop the project.  The investors would provide the funding, estimated at $425 million. In return, the investors would recoup toll revenue for construction, operations and maintenance.

“By using existing resources to leverage private investment, we can build the type of infrastructure that allows Illinois to better compete in the 21st century,” Rauner said. “This is an innovative project that will create jobs, improve the region’s quality of life and show that Illinois is open for business.”

Plans for adding tolled lanes to I-55 are not new. Transportation planners have advocated the managed-lane concept for years. In December, Rauner’s transportation secretary, Randy Blankenhorn outlined the project at a public hearing in Countryside.

Still,…