Summer on Metra: Riders can expect work and upgrades

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With construction season kicking into full gear, WGN is talking to the region’s top transportation officials this week about what summer slowdowns commuters can expect. Today we look at Metra.

There are 300,000 passe­­nger trips each day on Metra’s 11 lines and this summer, those riders can expect some station improvements, track work and train upgrades along with a new app that will let you pay for rides with your phone.

Track work is already underway for riders on the Milwaukee North, Milwaukee West and North Central service lines.  Crews are working to replace ties on the track that carries the three lines from Union Station to the Hermosa neighborhood.

Just last week, the same work on the Milwaukee North line from Libertyville to Glenview.

And late this summer, crews will start track tie work on the Rock Island line on a 20-mile stretch from Robbins to Joliet.

In all, Metra will replace nearly 40,000 track ties this year to keep its system maintained.

Metra’s executive director, Don Orseno, says riders on those lines can expect midday and weekend delays.

”Nobody wants delayed trains but we want to make sure we have safe track beds for our customers to ride on,” Orseno says. “It increases the ride quality and when you’re sitting on the train.”

Other major station changes to expect:

  • A new pedestrian tunnel along the UP-West line in Lombard will be ready late this summer.
  • By the end of June, riders along the Electric line will get a newly rehabbed Flossmoor Station.
  • A new project starts this summer to rebuild the Healy Station along the Milwaukee District North Line.

Now if any of these projects cause delays, riders will soon be able to track that on their phones. Metra is planning to launch a new Ventra app by June where riders will also be able to purchase tickets.

Of course these are all great upgrades, but riders want to know what it will cost them. This February, they were hit with an average 10.8-percent fare increase. Metra’s 10-year proposal currently shows more fare hikes ranging from 3% to 8.5%.

“We’ve looked at a 10 year process and will look at it every single year,” Orseno said. “It’s just not raising fares automatically. We’re going to look at the type of funding coming in.”

Metra has plans in the works for future growth and is hoping it can count on solid state and federal funding for help.


Future plans include three new stations in Edgewater, Auburn Park and Romeoville along with building a new track on the UP-West line to help alleviate freight congestion.

In addition to the projects listed above, Don Orseno said Metra is planning to launch its Ventra mobile app this summer so riders can purchase tickets with their smart phones.

The Metra board is also considering a policy for pets on trains. However, it has gotten strong response from opponents and proponents, so it's moving forward cautiously.  They expect to know in the next few months whether there will be a pilot project.

Additionally, Metra is currently in negotiations to get WIFI on trains, but isn't promising it will happen. It has tried twice before with no luck due to the cost.


Click here for Metra's full list of current and future projects: Metra Construction Work (pdf)

Click here to see Metra's 2015 Program and Budget Book(pdf)


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