Metra commute sounds alarmingly like some CTA rides

I don’t usually feature stories about Metra, but there’s always an exception. And this one continues the theme from last week: CTA looks great compared to some other city transit systems.


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This story from Lisa about her commute to Joliet has many key elements that we’ve complained about with the CTA — lack of communication on delays, delays out of the CTA’s control, and unruly passengers. It just reminds us that things aren’t always so rosy on the other side. Thanks for sharing, Lisa.

I have a crazy commuting story from last night. I started my commute on Metra on the 6:12pm Heritage Corridor (train 921) from Chicago Union Station to Joliet. We pulled out of the station on time, but were stopped less than 5 minutes later by a lift bridge malfunction.

Our delay dragged on and on, with frequent updates about whether a crew was going to be able to fix the malfunction but no information about when we would actually be able to get on our way. At one point, at around 7 pm, a conductor came through our car and someone asked if we were going to return to Union Station. He said that he didn’t think so. Then about a half hour later the decision was made and we were returned to Union Station.
The doors opened at 7:33 pm. I know the exact time because I looked at
my phone before I sprinted to LaSalle Street Station in the hopes of
making the 7:40pm Rock Island Train (train 525) to Joliet. I arrived at
the station at 7:40 on the dot (it’s more than 2/3 mile away) and
fortunately for other Heritage passengers they held the train for about
10 minutes to allow us some time to make it there (wish that had been
announced on the Heritage train).

I found a seat and commiserated with several other people who had been
on the 6:12 with me. Our ride was uneventful (though running 10 minutes
late) until we got within 2 or 3 minutes of Joliet. Then the train
stopped with no explanation.

Most passengers were standing near the doors expecting to pull into the
station at any moment. About 20 minutes later, an announcement was made
that we couldn’t hear very well in our car (although all previous
announcements had been loud and clear). Another 10 minutes later, still
with little idea of what was happening and why we were delayed, a man
started becoming belligerent near the doors. He got into a heated
argument with other passengers and the conductors.

 I didn’t see what happened, but got the impression that he started
throwing punches. Someone got him subdued and he sat between cars with a
conductor watching over him. We did finally get word from the
conductors that there was a switch problem, but there was no information
about when we would finally pull all the way into the station and be
able to get off the train. Three of the other passengers and I were
originally on the 6:12 pm train and we made jokes and tried to make the
best of a really bad situation.

Finally at 10:18 pm, more than 4 hours from when I started my commute,
and after 2 delays which were longer than an hour each, we pulled into
the station. About 8 of Joliet’s finest were waiting at the station to
arrest the man who had become violent with the train staff.

My husband was there to pick me up (he’s a sweetheart for waiting for me
at Joliet for over an hour… we’d talked on the phone so many times
that his phone battery had died). We got home around 10:25, skipped
dinner, went straight to sleep, and I was up less than 8 hours later and
on the 6:25 Heritage Train to drag my tired hungry body back to

This is by far my worst experience so far with Chicago area commuting. I
was pretty close to tears by the end of the night.


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  • This is a typical Metra delay. Whenever there is a delay, communication is very bad. Metra never knows how long the delay will last and never has alternatives when a train breaks down.

  • Thanks for posting this. The myth that Metra is some paragon of efficiency needs to be put to rest. I take the UP North Line regularly on the weekends and there are frequent delays even when there is no track work. This has even begun to happen with weekday rush hour runs although less frequently than weekend delays. During the horrid CTA summer of 2008 when there was major track work on the Brown Line along with three-tracking, I would always take the 10:48 from Ravenswood to avoid CTA. Despite its being the first northbound train of the day on Sunday, it was always at least 15 minutes late. I get automated UP North Line service updates from Metra and there have been a lot of them lately. There are times when trains just never arrive or terminate before the get to the scheduled end of the route. If you're stuck in Kenosha or need to get to Kenosha, you're screwed. Add to this my comment from a few weeks ago about the UP North having plenty of urban authenticity and Metra no longer looks so wonderful.

  • The UP North weekend trains are notorious for being late. The weekdays are usually good, but the weekends, ugh. And of course Metra doesn't even start running early enough on Sundaysto do an AM activity. Once thought it would be great to use Metra to meet my friend in Highland Park, but the earliest train would get me there an hour after I needed to be.
    The CTA is a transit system, the Metra is a commuter transportation system and there's a world of difference between the two.

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