New Metra CEO Drives to Work Because the Train’s Too Infrequent

Don Orseno
New Metra CEO Don Orseno

The Metra board recently confirmed Don Orseno as the permanent executive director following his stint as interim chief after Alex Clifford resigned last year. After the confirmation, the Tribune reported that Orseno, a decades-long railroad and Metra employee who lives in Manhattan, a far southwest suburb, said that he has to drive to work because the “SouthWest Service Line schedule doesn’t get him to the office early enough, or home late enough.”

He’s right: Each weekday, three trains depart Manhattan for Chicago Union Station, arriving at 7:25 a.m., 8:17 a.m. and 3:48 p.m. The last train bound for Manhattan leaves Union Station at 5:40 p.m. The line doesn’t run at all on Sundays and six holidays.

Ridership figures for SouthWest Service aren’t known since Metra rarely conducts station-level boarding surveys and the only one for the Manhattan station was conducted in 2006 (the same year SouthWest Service was extended to Manhattan and Will County). A 2013 survey did show only seven percent of the 250 car parking spaces at the station in use. Numerous residents — but apparently not Orseno — drive to 179th Street station in Orland Park which has better, more typical service.

The low frequency on the line isn’t simply Metra catering to demand. Ridership itself is restrained by the lack of frequency.

Orseno’s speech at the board meeting focused on improving communication quality to passengers, which was abysmal during the Chiberia service disruptions. Soon, though, we need to hear from Orseno and other transit leaders and state legislators about how they plan to add service, given that the infrequency of transit is a drag on the regional economy.

Orseno’s comments come at a very interesting time. Tonight, state representatives Ron Sandack and Darlene Senger host a public hearing to discuss Metra’s extremely long delays, leaving passengers on cold platforms with nary a communiqué. Orseno will attend and Metra staff will make a presentation before a public Q&A.

It won’t be surprising if the meeting, to be held at Naperville City Hall, is canceled because of today’s inclement weather, but one Twitter user has this question queued up for Orseno already:

  • J

    Great. A transit chief who lives in the very frontiers of sprawl and who, wait for it, drives everywhere. Something tells me he won’t have a very urban or transit-oriented perspective.

  • Jay Broaney

    “The low frequency on the line isn’t simply Metra catering to demand. Ridership itself is restrained by the lack of frequency.”

    That’s a pretty bold claim to make without backing it up. The town of Manhattan only has a population of just above 7,000.

  • R

    Or I guess from the flip side, he currently is affected by the limitations of the very same Commuter rail service that he is CEO of, thus can understand the need to start expanding service and connectivity :)

  • Anne A

    I know a bunch of folks who would use the Southwest Service if it offered a reasonable level of service. Some are even within walking distance of a SWS station. Instead, they drive a longer distance to a park and ride lot so they can use the Rock Island, which has much more frequent service, and has trains from early morning hours to a 12:30 a.m. departure from the Loop.

  • Fbfree

    The SouthWest line has other problems. It’s reliability is poor as it has to pass through the Belt Junction, the most congested freight interlocking in Chicago. It also has the longest run between the loop and it’s first station of any Metra line making travel anywhere else along the line impossible.

    The first issue will be fixed as part of the CREATE project. However, the existing plans will rebuild all the tracks along 75th without any provision for platforms or access to the Metra tracks. This precluding adding a station at Ashland that would vastly improve this line’s connectivity to the south side. A station at or near 63rd to connect to the Green and Red lines should also be built (although the Englewood flyover is already too far along to include station provisions).

  • Mishellie

    I have a coworker from there. She has a pretty rough time getting in on many days, and has very limited train options.

  • Jay Broaney

    Maybe she should move closer to her employment. The government’s job isn’t to subsidize someone’s right to live anywhere.

  • Jennifer

    Are you going to the meeting?

  • No.

  • Fedor Manin

    The Southwest Service is one of three Metra lines (along with NCS and Heritage) where Metra’s hold on the right of way is the most tenuous. Expanding service might run into issues with freight trains belonging to Norfolk Southern, which owns the tracks south of the Belt Railway and is notoriously hostile to passenger trains (at least in Michigan.) Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

  • Eleanor

    Maybe she lives out there for a whole variety of reasons, it doesn’t really matter. I think the bigger issue here is that if a major metropolitan area like Chicago wants to have a vibrant and robust economy, improved regional transit options and connections will play a large role. That’s something the government should have a vested interested in.

  • I’m probably changing the subject, but I feel that the UP and BNSF routes are more tenuous.

  • No. I’d go if it didn’t take 4 hours for me to travel there and back.

  • Fbfree

    I’d rather he learn about the difficulties Metra faces by taking the train rather than not taking it.

  • oooBooo

    Catch 22.
    He can drive and be criticized for that.
    Or expand train service so it’s workable for him and then get criticized for directing limited resources away from more pressing needs.
    Or he can deal with the time and hassle of driving some and taking the train some.

    Calling Manhattan a suburb is to me absurd. It’s some small town that is in the middle of farm fields. The closest thing it could be a suburb to is Joliet, not Chicago.

  • JacobEPeters

    While I agree him taking the train would be better, he is a lifelong Metra employee who started from the bottom and has worked as a train conductor. I am pretty sure he understands the difficulties of Metra from those years of experience. From his resume and job performance thus far, he seems to be passionate about the subject. As long as that passion leads to productive improvements and change we should be well served regardless of his exurban home choice.

  • Metra outright owns the two Milwaukee lines (MD-N, MD-W), the Rock Island and the Electric. And even on those lines, with the sole exception of the Electric, Metra has to deal with freight rail concerns.

  • Kevin M

    I think you missed two important options of action the current Metra CEO has:
    1) He could call for a survey of ridership on the SWS line (as well as other Metra lines).
    2) He could call for a survey of potential ridership to the residents along the SWS line (or other lines).

    I’ve never got the feeling that Metra’s leadership actually wants to grow ridership and service levels. Yes, they are cash-strapped and would need to find funding to increase service levels, but Metra’s leadership (both the Board and CEO) should be doing the research (see my ideas above) to build a case for increasing service on their lines. Instead, I have long held the sense the Metra is content with providing the same service it always has been. Conservative leadership is not what Chicago’s transit future needs.

  • Kevin M

    Correction: “Chicagoland’s” transit future (to clarify that I’m referring to our region, not just the city)

  • Mishellie

    Thank you. I couldn’t think of a coherent and polite way to say this.

  • Jim

    The 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project would create a lot more options on the SWS Line.

  • oooBooo

    Neither would be seen as anything but him trying to direct resources for his own use.

    IMO, The observed goal of Chicago area transit is not to better transit, it’s to make driving worse.

  • Anne A

    On the Rock Island, most of the conflicts are at junctions. When RI is running late and misses its scheduled crossing window at a junction, it has to wait for the next opening. Right now this is happening pretty much every day at 16th St. on delayed inbound trains.

  • jennacatlin4

    Such limited trains keep people disturbed and devoid of the basic things, such issues should be catered in an efficient manner.Airport Car parking at Luton

  • F Metra!

    Don Orseno is an idiot. Even the mayor uses the CTA. Metra is a corrupt “buddy run” agency that needs to be run by people who were not there working for Pagano who didn’t want to face the Metra justice so many have had to and continue to. He is there to collect a check and could care less if the service gets better. Not only that but he would have to pay to ride because Metra employees can’t ride for free. And does he even have a degree? No one under him could have gotten the job in that organization? His only true purpose there is to keep Metra’s dark secrets within the walls of Metra and keep them out of the spotlight. Transparency is a dirty word there. That’s why they got rid of Clifford and Wiggins. They don’t want you to know the cluster f-word that is Metra and I should know.

  • Dawn

    I worked at Metra and the corruption there was horrible. I was brought in and lied to, only to find out I was paid less than people who didn’t finish high school! (I have a Master of Arts). I’ve been discriminated against and the Human Resource department there was run (not sure if this is still true)by members of James Meek’s Salem Baptist Church. There is something wrong when someone with experience and education is paid less than a moron. Metra was the worst job I ever had and the HR losers (especially former head Gail Washington who actually made up lies about me)are the worst than any HR people I have ever come in contact with.