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

metralogo

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.

Older post:

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,…

Metra: No PTC safety system until 2020

By Richard Wronski

Chicago Transportation Journal

Metra has told federal regulators that it doesn’t plan to have a high-tech safety system installed on its commuter trains until 2020, five years after a deadline that was originally imposed by Congress in 2008.

The safety system, known as Positive Train Control, uses GPS, sophisticated software and equipment to automatically slow or stop speeding trains and prevent the kinds of derailments that occurred on Metra’s Rock Island Line in 2003 and 2005 that resulted in two deaths and dozens of injuries.

Most recently, federal safety experts say, PTC would have prevented the May 12 derailment in Philadelphia of an Amtrak train that was traveling at twice the speed limit. Eight people were killed and more than 200 injured.

In the face of a threatened national railroad shutdown on Jan. 1, Congress in October approved an extension of the PTC deadline until the end of 2018, with some exceptions.

The Federal Railroad Administration on Wednesday released a list of dates by which the nation’s freight and commuter railroads said they planned to have PTC fully implemented.

Metra and Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority were the only two big-city commuter rail agencies that said they would need until 2020 to have PTC ready.

Metra said Wednesday that the 2020 timetable it filed with the FRA was a “realistic schedule” and met the “legal deadline” for PTC implementation as outlined in the extension legislation Congress passed in October.

The legislation allows railroads to file an “alternative schedule” for PTC by the end of 2018, Metra said. That schedule calls for acquiring radio…

Something new for Chicago

Hello, Chicago. This marks the debut of a new source of information for the millions of Chicago area residents and businesses who must get around the metropolitan area each day, whether by car, bus or train (and bike, too). Just a few years ago, there were at least five reporters working for Chicago newspapers and radio stations whose “beat” was transportation and who provided this information. Not any more.

While those beats have disappeared, the news has not. Chicagoans still need to know the best ways to get around. They need to know how their expressways and tollways are being managed and maintained. They need to know if their buses and trains are operating properly and on time. They need to know who runs the transit agencies, and why those officials make the decisions they do. They need to how their tax money and fares are being spent. They need a watchdog.

The Chicago Transportation Journal’s goal is to address those needs. We’ll do so by providing in-depth coverage of issues unavailable elsewhere. For example, if your bus or train is consistently late, we’ll tell you why and what’s being done to fix the problem. We’ll delve into the decision-making behind the policies and actions taken by transportation agencies. We’ll also provide a forum for transportation users, providers and experts. We welcome other voices.

Transportation is a multibillion-dollar industry, and Chicago is the transportation hub of the nation. All the major freight railroads, Amtrak, and many of the key interstate highways pass through the region. We have two of the nation’s busiest airports, O’Hare and Midway. This site also hopes to keep an eye on the freight rail, trucking and aviation industries, areas not covered by other media.

The Chicago Transportation Journal is making a…

newseats

New way to ride Metra debuts

As part of a pilot program, some Metra riders will start seeing the biggest change to their daily commutes in decades on Wednesday with the debut of coaches equipped with a new style of seats.

Instead of the dark green bench-style seats that have traditionally been used on Metra coaches, the new gray and blue vinyl seats are considered “airline-style” with armrests, built-in cup holders and better head, neck and back support, officials say.

And, importantly, the new seats are stationary: That is, they don’t flip.

Except for 12 seats in each car, the new ones will face the vestibule at the middle of each coach. So only about half the riders will face the direction of travel. That means some customers may have to get used to riding backwards.

Metra is rolling out the first of 30 railcars with the new seats. That car, No. 7437 (for anyone who wants to spot it), is being put into service on the Milwaukee District lines, which run north to Fox Lake and west to Elgin.

Metra plans to add the new seating to two cars per month between now and the end of the year on all lines except the Metra Electric as part of a pilot program. Older model Electric District cars have fixed seats.

Customers who use the new seats will be asked to provide feedback starting in February.

Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno said Metra hopes riders find the new seats more comfortable than the current ones, and that more ridership will result.

“We want to provide the very best…