By Vincent Barone, Newsday, May 24, 2017

The MTA Board on Wednesday approved funding for a third track on the Long Island Rail Road’s bottlenecked Main Line.

The proposed $2 billion LIRR Main Line Expansion project, to build a 9.8-mile third track between Floral Park and Hicksville, was one of several to be funded through a board vote that increased the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s $29.5 billion capital plan to $32.5 billion by assuming an additional $1.6 billion in debt.

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A series of press releases from Metra:

Metra OKs $48.2 million in UP North Line work

May 24, 2017 – The Metra Board of Directors today approved three contracts totaling $48.2 million to replace or repair several bridges along the Union Pacific North Line on the North Side of Chicago and build the new inbound half of the Ravenswood Station.

“These projects represent a major investment in the infrastructure along the UP North Line, which is essential to maintaining safe, reliable service,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “Together, these improvements will have a lasting impact that our customers will benefit from for many years to come.”

The Board approved a $17.2 million contract with Judlau Contracting Inc. of Lisle to replace the bridges that carry the inbound UP North Line tracks over 11 streets from Grace to Balmoral. The bridges are more than 100 years old and can no longer be economically repaired and maintained. Construction of bridges for the outbound tracks over the same 11 streets was completed in 2015. The new bridges will last for more than 100 years.

Kenny Construction Company of Northbrook was awarded a  $15.5 million contract to rehabilitate the bridges that carry the UP North Line over Webster Avenue and the North Branch of the Chicago River just north of Webster (known as the Deering Bridge).

Finally, IHC Construction Companies of Elgin was awarded a $15.5 million contract to build the new inbound half of the Ravenswood Station, the busiest station on the line outside of downtown. The work will mirror that of the outbound half of the new station, which was completed in 2015.

The station will have longer, covered platforms, warming shelters, new lighting, ramps, stairs, new landscaping and a vendor space. Once the work is complete, the station will be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Customers will continue to use the temporary inbound platform until the new station and bridge project are complete.

Work on all three projects is expected to begin in July. The work on the Deering and Roscoe bridges will take about a year, while the work on the other bridges and Ravenswood Station will take about 30 months. Construction could result in minor delays to off-peak trains.

These projects are part of Metra’s 2017 construction program, which includes approximately $216 million in infrastructure improvements to 29 stations, 21 bridges and 29 road crossings and the replacement of 57,000 railroad ties to ensure safe and reliable service and maintain a state of good repair systemwide.

Metra to install inward-facing locomotive cameras

May 24, 2017 – The Metra Board of Directors today approved an $11 million contract to replace the camera system on its trains with an upgraded system that includes inward-facing cameras in the locomotives, cabcars and Highliner cars to record the actions of engineers.

Congress in 2015 ordered the Department of Transportation to draft rules within two years to require passenger railroads to install inward-facing and outward-facing cameras in all locomotives and other operating compartments such as cabcars and Highliner cars. Those rules are expected from the Federal Railroad Administration by the end of 2017.

“At Metra, safety is our highest priority, and we are pleased to be moving forward with this safety feature before the requirement takes effect,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “These cameras will give us another tool to ensure we are operating as safely as possible.”

The new system will include recorders, forward-facing cameras, rear-facing cameras, microphones, storage memory and crash-hardened memory. It also will include inward-facing cameras in Metra’s fleet of 150 locomotives, 187 cabcars and the 186 self-propelled Highliner cars used on the Metra Electric Line. The current camera system, which has reached the end of its useful life, does not include inward-facing cameras. The contract was awarded to Railhead Corp. of Alsip, Illinois.

According to the federal legislation, the cameras are to be used to: verify that the train crew is following safety laws and operating rules and procedures; assist an investigation of an accident or incident; and document a criminal act or monitor unauthorized people in the locomotive cabs.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has long advocated the use of cameras inside locomotive cabs as an aid in accident investigations and for use in efficiency testing and performance monitoring programs. The cameras also can help railroad management prevent accidents by identifying safety issues before they lead to injuries and loss of life by using them to develop valuable training tools, according to the NTSB.

Metra proposes revised Metra Electric schedule

May 24, 2017 –  Metra has proposed a revision to its Metra Electric Line schedule that adjusts service to better reflect ridership demands and anticipated development in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where more than 1,700 residential units have been planned or recently constructed.

Metra has prepared a number of documents to inform customers about the proposal, including the news release below. The information also includes:

The proposed new inbound weekday schedule

The proposed new outbound weekday schedule

The proposed new inbound weekend schedule

The proposed new outbound weekend schedule

The current Metra Electric Schedule

Questions and answers about the proposed new schedule

Alternative service for the South Chicago Branch Line

Alternative service for the Blue Island Branch Line

Copies of the proposed new schedule also are being distributed on Metra Electric trains and downtown stations. In addition, Metra will hold meetings to present the schedule changes, answer questions about alternative transportation options and gather feedback about the proposed new schedule from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the following schedule:

  • June 19 – South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive
  • June 20 – Flossmoor Village Hall, 2800 Flossmoor Rd.
  • June 21 – Blue Island City Hall, 2434 Vermont St.
  • June 22 – Polsky Exchange, University of Chicago, 1452 E. 53rd St., 2nd Floor

Comments may also be sent to medschedulerevisions@metrarr.com. Metra will consider all comments before finalizing the schedule, with a goal of implementing the new schedule later this summer.

The proposed schedule will generally provide train service every 20 minutes or less between Millennium Station and all three Hyde Park stations (51st/53rd Street, 55th/56th/57th Street and 59th Street) until 7 p.m. on weekdays. Recent data indicates that ridership at these three Hyde Park stations has increased 7.6 percent over the past three years.

The goal of the proposed schedule revisions is to improve service and attract more customers without increasing Metra’s costs. Ridership on the Metra Electric Line has declined nearly 14 percent over the past six years, down 1.4 million passenger trips or 61 percent of the total decline in ridership systemwide since 2011.

“We need to do something to stem the loss of ridership on the Metra Electric Line, which has been declining for years despite the fact that the line has the newest cars and most scheduled trains on our system,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “This new schedule is an effort to make the best use of our existing resources by scheduling our trains in a more efficient way and enhancing service without impacting our budget.”

The proposed schedule maintains nearly all rush-hour train service on the Metra Electric mainline and improves midday service to hourly from every two hours at stations on the South Side of Chicago between 63rd and Kensington, including the newly rehabilitated 111th St./Pullman Station near the Pullman National Monument. Other proposed changes address gaps in service and simplify the schedule and stop patterns. The new schedule also eliminates or combines lightly used trains, mostly on the Blue Island and South Chicago branches, which have seen ridership decline 17.5 and 11.2 percent, respectively, over the past three years.

“My community has been advocating for increased service on the Metra Electric Line for years,” said State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (25th District). “This is a good first step toward increasing Metra Electric ridership. “

“Convenient and reliable public transportation options are critical for faculty, staff, students, and visitors traveling to our campus for work, class, and arts and culture offerings, as well as to our offices and other facilities,” said University of Chicago Vice President for Civic Engagement and External Affairs Derek Douglas. “We appreciate the consideration Metra has taken in revising and enhancing its schedule, which will help meet the need for more frequent transportation as the mid-South Side continues to grow as a destination.”

Some of the major changes under the proposed schedule include:

  • Improved midday service to Hyde Park – The three Hyde Park stations would now be served by 18 inbound trains (up from as few as nine trains) and 18 outbound trains (up from as few as seven trains) during the midday period between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Inbound trains would arrive at those stations every 20 minutes (down from as many as 60 minutes) and outbound trains from downtown to Hyde Park would depart every 20 minutes (down from as many as 60 minutes).
  • Improved midday service to mainline stops from 75th to 111th streets – Those stations would now see six inbound trains and six outbound trains during the midday hours, up from three. Trains would arrive every hour, instead of every two hours.
  • Elimination of a gap in inbound service on the mainline – The current schedule has a nearly one-hour gap between Train 742, which leaves University Park at 5:48 a.m., and train 700, which leaves University Park at 6:40 a.m.. Train 106, which now leaves University Park at 6:34 a.m., would be inserted between those two trains and would instead depart University Park at 6:12 a.m. Schedules of others trains would be adjusted to accommodate customers using Train 106’s current schedule.
  • Elimination of lightly used trains on the branch lines – Lightly used trains on the branch lines, mostly early morning and late evening trains, would be eliminated, including Blue Island Branch Trains 200, 244, 245, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, and 251 and South Chicago Branch Trains 300, 330, 346, 347, 348, 349, 350, 351 and 353. Many of these trains carry only one to two customers per day. Taken together, these trains carry an average of fewer than 10 passengers per day.

Alternative public transportation options to serve the South Chicago and Blue Island branch line stations and eliminated trains include a variety of CTA and Pace buses. In addition, Metra’s Rock Island Line is an alternative for some Blue Island Branch customers.

Trains 331 and 604 will also be eliminated, though Trains 329 and 504 can serve those passengers seven minutes earlier and four minutes later, respectively.

  • Combining two trains on the mainline into one train – Inbound mainline Trains 738 and 758, which have similar schedules but serve different stations, would be combined into one Train 738 and serve all stations formerly served by the two trains. Similarly, outbound mainline Trains 739 and 759 would be combined into one Train 739.
  • Adjustment of Saturday service – Saturday service would be scaled back to better match demand. However, the line would continue to have more Saturday trains than any other Metra line. On the mainline, the number of trains would drop to 40 from 46, while on the South Chicago Branch, the number of trains would drop to 32 from 48. By comparison, the BNSF Line, Metra’s busiest, has 28 Saturday trains. The proposed revisions will keep the same level of Sunday service on the Metra Electric Line, though some train times may be adjusted. The Blue Island Branch currently has no Sunday service.
  • Elimination of Saturday service on the Blue Island Branch – Metra would no longer offer service on the Blue Island Branch on Saturdays. The Blue Island Branch currently operates 16 inbound trains on Saturday, accommodating fewer than 100 total passengers from Blue Island Branch stations for the entire day, or an average of about six passengers per train.

Alternative public transportation options to serve the Blue Island Branch include a variety of CTA and Pace buses. In addition, Metra’s Rock Island Line is an alternative for some Blue Island Branch customers.

Metra will host a series of community meetings to present the schedule changes, answer questions about alternative transportation options and gather feedback about the proposed new schedule. The meetings, which will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., will be held at:

  • June 19 – South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive
  • June 20 – Flossmoor Village Hall, 2800 Flossmoor Rd.
  • June 21 – Blue Island City Hall, 2434 Vermont St.
  • June 22 – Polsky Exchange, University of Chicago, 1452 E. 53rd St., 2nd Floor

Comments may also be sent to medschedulerevisions@metrarr.com. Metra will consider all comments before finalizing the schedule, with a goal of implementing the new schedule later this summer. Metra will continue to refine the Metra Electric Line schedule in the years to come based on changing demand in the service area.

All Metra Electric Line customers are asked to review the proposal to learn if their trains would be affected.

Metra launches Metra Moves Me campaign

May 25, 2017 – Metra today announced the start of a new advertising and marketing campaign aimed at getting more Chicago area commuters out of their cars and onto the train. The new campaign, “Metra Moves Me” features bold headlines including “Avoiding traffic is awesome” and “I’m giving my brakes a break,” combined with powerfully expressive faces.  The campaign is designed to evoke an emotional response from prospective customers and, ultimately, get them to consider the stress-relief advantages of riding Metra versus the frustrations of driving their car to work.

“With average gas prices at near historic lows, Metra is reminding potential customers that there is no price tag for peace of mind and the value of personal time,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “We realize that drivers dealing with traffic, congestion and the challenges of trying to be on time are carrying tremendous amounts of stress, on their way to work and on their way back home. Our campaign aims to contrast those feelings with the ones of our on-time, relaxed customers riding Metra.”

Metra recently completed a customer segmentation study that identified five groups of non-riders who have different reasons for choosing other transportation options. Two of those groups, representing about 36 percent of the non-rider market base, had a very positive feeling about Metra and highly valued the consumer benefits of Metra service as a real improvement to their lives and their daily commutes in particular. The study informed Metra’s marketing and communications campaign to reach those groups on the benefits of riding the train.

Members of those groups are most likely to drive downtown to work, feel their car is more comfortable than riding Metra and have an unrealistically low estimate of the agency’s on-time performance record.

The study indicated that a key emotional driver for those groups is that Metra is “a great way to avoid the hassle of driving.” Other key drivers are related to the courtesy of station personnel, the safety of the train and the ability to relax at boarding stations. The new campaign, tested in focus groups, seeks to validate and leverage these findings to ensure that its messaging resonates with the target groups identified in the customer segmentation study. Metra will also be conducting a pre- and post-tracking study to evaluate the impact of the new advertising campaign.

In the weeks to come, Metra Moves Me advertisements will be placed on radio, traffic sponsorships on television morning news, billboards, at gas stations, shopping malls, digital news outlets and social media. In July, the Metra Moves Me campaign will focus on attracting recreational riders before transitioning back to commuter-focused ads after Labor Day.

Ultimately, the campaign is devoted to engaging potential customers in order to maximize the benefits that Metra brings to the region, the communities it serves and those who are tired of enduring the hardships of driving in today’s traffic. The campaign was developed by Pulsar Advertising, Metra’s advertising agency of record.

 

Mental evaluation sought for man accused in Amtrak shooting; conductor improving

May 25, 2017

By Clifford Ward, Chicago Tribune, May 24, 2017 The Wisconsin man charged with shooting and gravely wounding an Amtrak conductor last week in Naperville is due back in court Thursday, where his attorneys are seeking to have him examined to evaluate his mental fitness. According to court files, the public defender representing Edward Klein has […]

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UP to Invest $49 Million in Missouri

May 25, 2017

A press release from Union Pacific Railroad: Union Pacific Plans to Invest $49 Million in its Missouri Rail Infrastructure Spring, Tex., May 24, 2017 Union Pacific is boosting safety and efficiency with an approximately $49 million infrastructure investment in Missouri this year. Projects funded by Union Pacific benefit Missouri’s overall transportation infrastructure without taxpayer funds. […]

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Defending the rail industry from falsehoods

May 25, 2017

Written by Bruce E. Kelly, Contributing Editor, Railway Age Magazine Railroads and their customers must not leave fate in the hands of a misinformed public. Long before the concept of “fake news” became a thing, the rail industry suffered routinely at the hands of mainstream media, whose members believe that bulk commodities and passengers get […]

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New in Corridor Capital’s Chicago neighborhood: Chicago Union Station Redevelopment Includes 5 New Towers, Food Hall, Rooftop Plaza

May 25, 2017

Editor’s note: The impressive, stately, and over-burdened Chicago Union Station is receiving some long term help with a massive redevelopment project which will help bring the venerable station property to it full potential as both a real estate property and vibrant passenger train terminal and Midwest passenger hub. Corridor Capital’s headquarters is directly across the […]

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Colorado Governor Hickenlooper has signed bill to explore Front Range passenger train service. What now?

May 24, 2017

By Jesse Paul, The Denver Post, May 23, 2017 Gov. John Hickenlooper this week signed into law a bill to explore building passenger rail service along the Front Range and the expansion of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route through the state’s southeastern corner. Monday’s signing sets into motion a set of 11 stakeholders to be appointed to a […]

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California: SMART revises passenger rail service after facing criticism

May 24, 2017

By Derek Moore, The Press Democrat, May 23, 2017 Facing public backlash over its announced schedule for passenger rail service, Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit scrambled to release a revised version Tuesday — one that officials say shortens wait times during peak commute hours, though gaps of an hour or more still exist during some […]

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New York Governor Cuomo: Amtrak needs to hand over control of Penn Station

May 24, 2017

By Danielle Furfaro, New York Post, May 23, 2017 The state should take control of Penn Station, because Amtrak can’t handle the job of running the beleaguered transit hub anymore, Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted Tuesday. “When Penn suffers, mass transit throughout the Northeast suffers — and [that’s] what’s happening now,” he said at a press […]

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FIRST LOOK for All Aboard Florida: Inside West Palm Beach’s new Brightline train station

May 24, 2017

By Jennifer Sorentrue, Staff Writer, Palm Beach Post, May 23, 2017 All Aboard Florida’s Brightline on Tuesday unveiled the inside of its West Palm Beach station, offering the first glimpse at how passengers will move from the building’s ticketing turnstiles to its shaded train platform. Crews are still putting the finishing touches on the station’s […]

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