Not right time for new Metra chairman

Every railroad needs to operate on schedule, right Metra riders? If the timetable says departure is at 8:15 and arrival is 8:45, passengers expect Metra to stick to it. Doesn’t always happen, of course.

The commuter rail agency’s board has a policy that says that its chairmanship should operate on a schedule, too. That policy, adopted in 2012, requires that the leadership post be rotated every four years among the board members from Cook County, including Chicago, and the board members from one of the five other counties that Metra serves.

It’s kind of like a term limit. That policy was one of the first reforms to emerge from the Phil Pagano scandal, and was aimed at curbing the kind of one-man rule under which Metra operated for decades.

You remember Pagano? He was the autocratic executive director who committed suicide in 2010 after being caught stealing $475,000 in vacation pay and forging memos to cover it up.

For too long, Pagano ran Metra virtually unchallenged. Metra’s 11-member board of directors, comprised of political appointees hand-picked by the six county chairs and commissioners, gave him free rein. For most of this time, Metra’s chairman, from distant McHenry County, was Pagano’s enabler. Patronage was rife. Contracts went to pals. One board member went to prison.

Pagano’s unchecked greed exposed a glaring lack of oversight by Metra’s directors. An outraged public started paying attention, and the politicians – finally put in the spotlight themselves — began feeling the heat.

In 2011, Metra’s then-chairwoman, DuPage appointee Carole Doris, led the effort to bring…

Death by train: Railroads, Metra and suicides

One morning last January, Metra foreman Robert Tellin was startled as he peered out the window of his office at Elgin’s commuter station. There, Tellin saw a man standing in the center of the tracks, just as the PA announced an approaching train.

Hurrying outside, Tellin asked the man what he was doing on the tracks. The man responded: I want to die.

Quickly, Tellin grabbed the man and safely pulled him from the rails, seconds before the train arrived.

It was a heroic effort on the part of Tellin, whom Metra’s board of directors honored with a resolution in March.

Unfortunately, for every moment of heroism there are many more moments of tragedy across the Chicago area’s vast network of railroad tracks. It seems every few weeks a Metra line is shut down due to a “pedestrian accident.” One just incident occurred last Thursday when a woman was struck in Northbrook by an Amtrak train, which shares the same tracks.

Indeed, death on the tracks is a problem that is particularly endemic to the Chicago area.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, in 2015 there were 32 suicides-by-train in Illinois. That’s one-tenth of the national total. And as the Chicago Tribune reported in 2014, the metro area itself has a higher incidence of suicides by train than the national average.

Research by Northwestern University professor Ian Savage found that 47 percent of railroad-pedestrian fatalities in the Chicago area were apparent suicides, versus 30 percent nationally.

One reason, Savage explained, is simply…

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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.”

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.

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:
·…

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…