Metra wastes money

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John Bredin

OBS Chief
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Dec 18, 2007
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874
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suburban Chicago (Deerfield)
Metra didn't shorten and lengthen trains at different times of day before Covid, because the labor to add or cut out cars was more expensive than the bit of fuel saved by not pulling excess cars around. With Covid, keeping the excess cars also allows for better social distancing.

I was in town yesterday (Friday) evening and there seemed to be a decent number of people out on the town. Sidewalk cafes seemed busy, and I saw lots of tour boats on the river as I walked to Union Station. Also, the Opera reopened for the season last night, and that's always meant a nice mini-rush on either the 10:30ish or 11:30ish trains out of Ogilvie and Union depending on when the show ends.
 

MikefromCrete

Engineer
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Mar 24, 2009
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Crete, IL
With many downtown offices closed or working with only a small staff, the rush hour isn't what it used to be. Commuter railroads need to offer frequent service during the day and into the late evening hours for people working unconventional hours or traveling for non-work purposes. Switching out cars on commuter trains is probably more expensive than running them throughout the day.
 

west point

Engineer
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Jun 9, 2015
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2,779
shorter trains ? It is not the fuel savings I am wondering. It is the excess mileage on unused passenger cars that is a very defined expense. I know Amtrak figures $4.00 per mile for its cars. Now if commuter cars are even half that at $2.00 per mile ? Of course those costs are kicked down into hopefully regular operation.
Maybe Metra needs some shorter trains to operate now as off peak trains ?
 

NorthShore

Conductor
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Sep 3, 2013
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Chicago
Metra used to run dinkys in its early days, sometimes cutting trains at outlying stations, going back to the operations of the Class 1s that had historically always operated these trains. That hasn't been done in over three decades.

I was riding Metra last week, and actually somewhat surprised at how significant ridership was. I was also at an event at the opera house one afternoon, and impressed by how many people were walking to the train stations just across the river. It does seem that Metra (which has been periodically adjusting schedules throughout the pandemic) has cut some evening trains. So, rather than a train every hour, there might only be one every other hour at night on certain lines. In a 24 hour metropolis, it's not entirely practical to entirely unserve certain hours of operation. People do need to get places. Sometimes home.

CTA made this mistake some years ago, cutting bus service on certain routes after 9 or 10 P.M. Now you see people sometimes waiting at an L station on a bus that isn't coming again until 5 A.M. (Even with transit apps. They'll insist "the bus is coming in 5 minutes!" not understanding that it is, then, pulling into the garage.) If you can't get home after going out to hear a concert, have dinner with friends, or see a show (let alone fireworks, a ballgame, or other evening entertainment) are you going to go out at all? Lack of enough trainsit kills econony. Not every city rolls up the sidewalks by 8 P.M. Here, even with the pandemic (now that things are recovering), things often haven't even gotten started yet.

What's actualy been needed, for some time, on certain Metra lines is an additional inbound train, to serve a reverse commute for those working or visiting suburban areas with entertainment centers around their downtowns.

Not to mention that service numbers on all kinds of transportation systems are often weaker middays than late nights. But it's not politically instinctive rhetoric to recommend cutting out midday services and adding or supporting late nights.
 
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lstone19

Service Attendant
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May 29, 2014
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138
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Chicago area
As Chicago area residents who attend 20 or so theater and similar events per year, I find Metra generally unusable for them. For evening events, generally the 10:30-10:40 trains are too early and the 12:30-12:40 trains too late. Having departures at around 11:30 would make it far more usable. And the Sunday every two hours schedule is pretty much a non-starter for Sunday events.

BTW, with regards to them not cutting train lengths, I have said that Metra is an acronym for "Making Empty Traincars Roll Around". OTOH, even with the long trains, they often don't open enough cars initially. When using Metra did work for our theater schedule, we'd take the 10:40 MD-W train home. I guess based on a service plan that was probably 30+ years old, it seemed the plan was to only have two cars open. And it seemed every time, at 10:39, the train crew would walk from the gate to the train, find a crush load on the two cars they had open, open more cars, and start moving people. After that, by the time we were ready to depart, we were already two to three minutes late.
 

NorthShore

Conductor
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Sep 3, 2013
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1,092
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Chicago
As Chicago area residents who attend 20 or so theater and similar events per year, I find Metra generally unusable for them. For evening events, generally the 10:30-10:40 trains are too early and the 12:30-12:40 trains too late. Having departures at around 11:30 would make it far more usable. And the Sunday every two hours schedule is pretty much a non-starter for Sunday events.

BTW, with regards to them not cutting train lengths, I have said that Metra is an acronym for "Making Empty Traincars Roll Around". OTOH, even with the long trains, they often don't open enough cars initially. When using Metra did work for our theater schedule, we'd take the 10:40 MD-W train home. I guess based on a service plan that was probably 30+ years old, it seemed the plan was to only have two cars open. And it seemed every time, at 10:39, the train crew would walk from the gate to the train, find a crush load on the two cars they had open, open more cars, and start moving people. After that, by the time we were ready to depart, we were already two to three minutes late.
Indeed, a system slow to change and an industry often stuck in its ways.

It's fascinating how at railfan events downtown (like C.E.R.A.) there is an understanding that they have to end by 9:00 so everyone can "catch their trains." I've also seen people rush out of concerts before encores or final numbers because either train schedules or parking limits are closing in. Better coordination with who the transit passengers are and where their customers are coming from is desperately needed. It seems that planners all go home to outlying areas at 5 P.M. not realizing there is life after work. Some years ago there were actually proposals to cut CTA services in neighborhoods on the northwest and southwest sides after 7. One agency official making the pitch argued that he lives in the area, so it woukd affect him. But he'd be fine. (I guess, as long as he got home to his car.) I noted that one significant delay on the L could leave hundreds of people abandoned at transit centers, with last buses already left. Even Lyric Opera had to adjust its schedule in the last couple of years, moving up start times so patrons could catch the trains.
 

daybeers

Conductor
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Jan 6, 2016
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HFD/POU
Indeed, a system slow to change and an industry often stuck in its ways.

It's fascinating how at railfan events downtown (like C.E.R.A.) there is an understanding that they have to end by 9:00 so everyone can "catch their trains." I've also seen people rush out of concerts before encores or final numbers because either train schedules or parking limits are closing in. Better coordination with who the transit passengers are and where their customers are coming from is desperately needed. It seems that planners all go home to outlying areas at 5 P.M. not realizing there is life after work.
This is big, thanks for bringing this up! Recreational/shopping/pleasure travel has been much more important since the pandemic hit and I think that's a demographic all transit agencies should be going after, because the crush of 9-5 business commuters is not going to work anymore (newsflash: it never did). Special events are a big deal because it's often difficult to find good directions, connections, and times, so most people throw their hands up and drive even if they have to pay $25+ for parking and wait to exit a 6-floor garage for half an hour.
 

NorthShore

Conductor
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Sep 3, 2013
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1,092
Location
Chicago
Not to mention that the greatest costs of transit are for all of the additional rush hour trips that, while they service a lot of riders, also take up a lot of expense for their one or two trips.
 

Seaboard92

Engineer
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Dec 31, 2014
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South Carolina
Honestly we need to do better about servicing events. They are large ridership draws if you manage them right. I remember once Sir Paul McCartney decided he wanted to do a "Green Concert" where everyone arrived by public transit in Atlanta of all places. By far it was the best concert I've ever been to. It was at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. As part of the concert it was encouraged to arrive via MARTA. Coming into the concert wasn't that bad because people started coming in at 10AM like I did so I could be near the front. But when we left it was a gigantic mess to get a train because they weren't running that frequent despite a concert of over 70K guests descending on the Midtown MARTA station. Better planning could have helped.
 

Cal

Foamer
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Jan 23, 2021
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Socal
Honestly we need to do better about servicing events. They are large ridership draws if you manage them right. I remember once Sir Paul McCartney decided he wanted to do a "Green Concert" where everyone arrived by public transit in Atlanta of all places. By far it was the best concert I've ever been to. It was at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. As part of the concert it was encouraged to arrive via MARTA. Coming into the concert wasn't that bad because people started coming in at 10AM like I did so I could be near the front. But when we left it was a gigantic mess to get a train because they weren't running that frequent despite a concert of over 70K guests descending on the Midtown MARTA station. Better planning could have helped.
I love that idea, more artists should definitely do something similar.
 
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