2015 at Chicago’s Metra: The Year in Review

December 31, 2015

A press release from Metra:

The start of mobile ticketing via the new Ventra App in late November topped off an eventful 2015 at Metra, which also saw the addition of Wi-Fi and charging outlets at all downtown stations, the start of our rolling stock modernization program, a so-far successful “Pets on Trains” experiment, new express service on the Rock Island Line, the launch of an innovative safety program, and a variety of other changes aimed at improving the passenger experience on Metra trains.Website Insert New Passenger Train Service copy

Those changes came in addition to the capital work that Metra does every year on its stations and tracks. And it came in addition to the usual concentration on providing timely service, which resulted in Metra exceeding its on-time-performance goal for 10 consecutive months and should see 2015 finish as one of the best years ever for that performance measure.

“Looking back on 2015, I am proud at everything the Metra team was able to accomplish,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “I believe we’ve created a real ‘can-do’ atmosphere among managers and staff that is paying off for the benefit of our riders. We still have much work to do, but I am very optimistic and excited for 2016 and beyond.”

Among the developments expected next year are the launch of an onboard Wi-Fi experiment, upgrades to our website (including the train tracker tool), a new marketing effort and upgrades to the Ventra App.

Below is a brief summary of some of Metra’s news in 2015:

January

  • Metra conducted the first-ever live Internet video stream of its Operation Lifesaver rail safety training presentation at Tinley Park High School. The live broadcast built on the more than 950 face-to-face, classroom-based Operation Lifesaver presentations the agency does at schools from pre-school through 12th grade each year.

February

  • The Metra Board of Directors approved one of the first components of the agency’s ambitious plan to modernize its rolling stock, authorizing a $91.1 million contract to rehabilitate 41 locomotives.
  • Metra announced that ridership on Metra climbed 1.3 percent in 2014, to 83.4 million passenger trips – the second-highest annual total in Metra’s 30-year history.
  • Metra’s online campaign promoting the rail service as the gateway to summer fun in Chicago was honored with a Silver ADDY award from the American Advertising Federation. It was the second year in a row that a Metra marketing campaign received a Silver ADDY Award.

March

  • The Metra Board approved a $12.6 million contract to replace a diverse set of aging back office financial systems – many of them more than 25 years old and no longer supported in the information technology industry – with a modern, fully integrated system that can better support the railroad’s operations and financial reporting requirements
  • A new reverse-commute option, Pace Route 465 Belmont Station – Esplanade, began with four morning and three evening trips between nearby office complexes and the Belmont Station on Metra’s BNSF Line. Metra adjusted the timetables of two BNSF Line trains so they stop at the Belmont Station and coordinate with the new Pace bus route.
  • Metra began to replace approximately 5,000 ties on the inbound track of the Milwaukee District North Line between Libertyville and North Glenview, followed by the replacement of 10,000 ties over all three tracks along a five-mile stretch from Canal Street to Chicago’s Galewood neighborhood.
  • Representatives of Metra management and transportation unions joined officials from the Federal Railroad Administration to announce the creation of a “Confidential Close Call Reporting System,” which is designed to proactively address safety issues and create a more positive safety culture.
  • Metra announced the winners of its ninth annual Safety Poster and Essay Contest. Metra received more than 4,800 entries from across the region for the 2015 contest. Students created artwork or wrote essays around the theme “Unplug for Safety, Look Listen Live.”

May

  • Metra opened the first half of a bigger and better Ravenswood Station on the Union Pacific North Line. The new station is being built in stages as part of a major project to replace aging bridges along the UP North Line on the North Side of Chicago.
  • For the third consecutive year, the Association of American Railroads honored Metra for its safety initiatives, this time for an employee-produced newsletter that promotes safety and operational excellence among engineers and crew members on the Rock Island Line.
  • Metra launched a trial program to enhance weekend service on the Rock Island Line by adding express trains that shorten the trip between suburban stations and downtown Chicago by about 20 minutes. Six mainline express trains were added to the schedule in each direction on Saturdays and Sundays, creating speedier service for suburban riders
  • Metra Board members and officials hosted a special Operation Lifesaver Safety Train on the Rock Island Line to commemorate National Safety Month and highlight the numerous ways Metra strives to operate the safest possible railroad for its customers, employees, area schoolchildren and the public.
  • Metra added service on most of its lines and offered a special one-day only $5 unlimited ride ticket to accommodate Chicago Blackhawks fans attending the downtown parade and rally to celebrate the team’s success in winning the 2015 Stanley Cup. The event was the third busiest days in Metra history, with more than 421,000 passenger trips.
  • Metra, Northwestern Medicine and the American Heart Association provided lifesaving demonstrations at several Metra stations as well as all downtown Chicago stations in recognition of National CPR and AED Awareness Week.
  • Metra and Flossmoor officials dedicated the newly completed $4 million reconstruction of the platform and related facilities at the Flossmoor Station on Metra’s Electric District Line.
  • Metra, Waukegan and Lake County officials gathered to kick off a $530,000 project to rehabilitate the Waukegan Station on the Union Pacific North Line.

July

  • Metra began a three-month trial program to allow small pets in carriers on weekend Rock Island Line trains.
  • Former Metra Board member and CTA executive Elonzo “Lonnie” Hill was posthumously inducted into the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Hall of Fame.

August

  • Metra offers a special $10 train pass for the three-day Lollapalooza festival and, for one lucky winner, two free tickets to the sold-out music extravaganza. Metra also added service to allow concertgoers to focus on the music and not the headaches of sitting in traffic and finding a place to park.
  • Metra began a project to replace 17,500 ties and resurface track over a nearly 25-mile stretch of the Rock Island Line between Blue Island and Joliet.
  • BNSF Railway renewed multiple sections of rail along the Chicago-to-Aurora route used by Metra commuter service. The project replaced 19,000 feet of rail that was worn and had reached the end of its useful life.
  • Metra announced that it will install charging stations at downtown stations to provide its customers with a convenient and free place to recharge electronic mobile devices including smartphones, tablets and laptops. The installation was completed in December.
  • Metra ended the practice of requiring gender identity on its monthly tickets.

September

  • Metra issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a marketing agency to partner with the commuter railroad on reimagining its brand and support Metra’s goal of acquiring 20,000 additional weekday passenger trips. The selected firm should be announced in early 2016.
  • As part of its efforts to reduce costs and hold the line on spending, Metra announced savings and efficiencies totaling $5.7 million that were incorporated into the agency’s 2016 annual budget plan, helping to reduce the projected fare increase for 2016 from 5 percent to 2 percent.
  • Metra launched the tenth edition of its annual Safety Poster and Essay Contest, asking students to illustrate through posters and essays how everyone should “Make Safety Your Focus: Look, Listen Live” when near railroad tracks and crossings.
  • The Metra Board formally called on Congress to extend the Dec. 31, deadline to install Positive Train Control (PTC), agreeing with a staff analysis that Metra would not be able to legally operate beyond that date without an extension. Congress later extended the deadline by three year.
  • Metra announced plans to install Wi-Fi technology on 10 railcars systemwide as part of a new test program to provide free, onboard Wi-Fi to customers. These railcars will be retrofitted with cellular hot spots by January 2016 to determine whether the technology can provide free and dependable Internet access to customers onboard Metra trains.
  • Metra announced that customers who purchase Metra tickets through the agency’s website can now split their payments among credit and debit cards, including pre-tax transit benefit debit cards.

October

  • Metra expanded its “Pets on Trains” pilot program to allow small pets in carriers on all weekend trains beginning Oct. 10, after a successful pilot program on weekend Rock Island Line trains. The new expanded pilot program will run through Jan. 31.
  • Metra posted its updated buying plan online to provide prospective vendors, contractors and subcontractors with a list of equipment, goods and services it expects to purchase within the next twelve months.
  • Metra announced that it has posted a variety of new information on its website, www.metrarail.com, enhancing the agency’s transparency and accountability for its customers and the region’s taxpayers. New information includes Metra employee compensation information, a summary of contracts awarded each month and a listing of the agency’s expenditures updated monthly.

November

  • Metra, the CTA and Pace unveiled the new Ventra App, which allows Metra riders to buy and display Metra mobile tickets with their smartphones using a credit or debit card or Ventra account. The app is the first ever to allow customers to pay for rides on all three transit systems –CTA, Metra and Pace – with a few taps on their mobile devices, transforming the way Chicagoans take transit each day. The app also includes a train tracker function for all regional buses and trains and handy Ventra account management features.
  • The Metra Board approved a $945.5 million budget that provides for $759.8 million in operating costs and $185.7 million to fund capital improvements in 2016. The 2016 Budget includes a 2 percent net increase in fare revenue instead of the previously projected 5 percent for a total of $6.5 million.
  • Metra announced that its older locomotives will be getting a modern new paint scheme in conjunction with a major overhaul that will extend their useful life. The new paint scheme will be applied to 42 F40 locomotives that were originally built between 1989 and 1992 and are now part of a $91.1 million rehab program. (See February) The new scheme was applied to three similar-looking, used F59 locomotives that Metra recently acquired.
  • Metra, Union Pacific Railroad, Lombard and DuPage County officials celebrated the completion of nearly $9.8 million in improvements at the Lombard Station along the UP West Line, including a new pedestrian underpass, rebuilt platforms and new platform canopies.
  • Metra announced that its experiment with weekend express trains on the Rock Island Line will be made permanent and it added a new weekday outbound express train starting Nov. 30.
  • Metra shows off some new weapons in its annual battle against cold and snowy weather: switch covers and supercharged heaters on several of the most critical switches in its system. It also continues to repair and replace railcar doors that are prone to fail in winter conditions.
  • Metra completed repairs at the Homewood Station on the Metra Electric Line that were aimed at making the station more welcoming and comfortable until a more extensive rehabilitation can be designed and funded.

December

  • Metra conducted its annual drives for toys, warm coats and food. About 550 coats were collected in the coat drive, and more than 3,300 toys and more than $11,000 were collected in the toy drive.
  • Metra announced that all five of its downtown stations now offer free Wi-Fi hotspots and free electric charging outlets. The Wi-Fi units installed at all five stations cost Metra about $12,000 and monthly service fees for all locations cost $1,050.

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