South Side Groups: Make the Metra Electric Run Like the CTA ‘L’

The Metra Electric line stations in Kenwood, Hyde Park, and South Shore supports their walkable neighborhoods. Photo: Eric Rogers

A dozen neighborhood organizations, along with the Active Transportation Alliance and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, are calling for the Metra Electric line, with its three branches that run through several South Side communities, to operate like a CTA ‘L’ line.

The fourteen organizations signed a letter to the editor of the Chicago Maroon, the independent student newspaper of the University of Chicago, stating that if Metra Electric trains were operated more like the Blue and Red Lines, “[it] could unlock the enormous development potential of the South Side and South Suburbs.” They described the neighborhoods and places the trains already reach:

The Metra Electric serves many key destinations on the South Side, such as the University of Chicago, the Pullman district, Chicago State University, the Museum of Science and Industry, Governor’s State University, McCormick Place, the South Shore Cultural Center, and the proposed Lakeside Development. The communities surrounding its stations are densely populated and walkable, ideal areas for rapid transit development.

The groups are absolutely right that the areas around the stations would be ideal for rapid transit service. They specifically ask transit agency heads and elected officials to make the following happen:

  • integrate fares and schedules with CTA and Pace operations, because the Metra Electric “is hampered by a fare structure more appropriate for suburban lines”
  • allow for discounted transfers among Metra and CTA and Pace
  • increase frequencies to 10-15 minutes

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 1.32.10 PM
The Metra Electric Line.

Many Chicagoans may be unaware that the Electric Line used to run at that frequency. Trains ran from Randolph Street Station (now Millennium Station) to the 93rd Street station in South Chicago every 10 minutes for nearly 15 years, until April 1949, according to a 2006 issue of First & Fastest, a quarterly transit magazine. They ran every 20 or 30 minutes up until September 1981, when service was reduced to hourly.

The letter asks for a study to determine how much funding would be needed to extend the Metra Electric to O’Hare Airport. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association, a signatory, calls this project “CrossRail.” It would involve building a couple of connections for Electric Line trains to switch over to other Metra lines and electrifying existing track to create a continuous route to the airport.

The groups also ask for more federal, state, and local funding in order to make their vision a reality. Right now, Metra doesn’t appear to have funding to run more trains. In recent years, they’ve raised fares without increasing service. And two stations they’ve been planning to build in Edgewater and Auburn Gresham are currently on hold due to the budget stalemate in Springield.

The idea of turning the Electric Line into a rapid transit route isn’t a new one. For years, local advocate Mike Payne has been pushing a similar proposal called the “Gray Line.”

And Active Trans and CNT’s Transit Future campaign for increased funding for public transportation at the county level, calls for the creation of several new rapid transit line. They refer to rapid transit service on the Electric Line as the “Gold Line.”

The 14 organizations that signed the letter to the Maroom are essentially asking for a return to historic service levels. Their movement is supported by the fact that the Electric Line has good infrastructure, including new train cars, and Metra has new leadership. The next step is to win support for the idea from local, state, and federal leaders.

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  • I don’t think there would be an advantage.

    The problem isn’t the infrastructure; it’s the service providers, the lack of coordination and leadership.

  • You are correct Steven, and I am not going to let them screw it up this time.

    They flubbed getting the Olympics with “painted lanes and hybrid buses on Lake Shore Drive”, instead of using the 4 track Electric Railroad the Olympic Committee could obviously see from the McCormick Hotel windows.

    I guess they mistakenly thought those people could be led around like sheep, like Chicagoans.

    And the RTA “South Lakefront Corridor Transit Study” – specifically designed to produce nothing (DID IT produce anything Steven?)

    I have Authored a Major Capital Project (CMAP RTP ID# 01-02-9003) and I am going to see Ray Lahood with it; asking Rahm, Metra, and CTA for it is like asking Dracula for Blood (NO Billions for Connected Campaign Contributor Constriction Companies).

    Maybe Ray can take it to the White House for me (us);

    I AM a BP Gas Station Cashier living and working in Lisle, 35 miles from Chicago; how would the Gray Line benefit Mike if he got the Funding for it.

    It would go to CTA and Metra — Mikey gets Nada!

  • kclo3

    Other than the countless grade crossings through South Chicago, and that the Loop probably has no extra core capacity, the only discernible benefit of L integration is a better through-running setup than the more indirect, marginally-beneficial Crossrail (assuming similar cost magnitudes). A possible long-term solution without the need to expand existing core capacity (while taking advantage of the heightened cost levels) could be a tunnel from Randolph St. to Streeterville, then turning west to take over Brown/Purple or a Milwaukee District line.

  • buddah

    however true there is a loophole to that FRA rule, it can not run adjacent at level to class 1 so in other words it COULD use the same ROW but the CTA tracks would need to be at least 6-8 ft above the height of the class one tracks level so it could still run next to class one tracks just not at the same exact level.

  • buddah

    with all the hoopla surrounding the gold and gray line another option was brought up and its a shame it never materialized.. which was to extend the green line at and down cottage grove run it south and have it extended/ run next to the IC (metra electric lines) and then take over the metra South shore branch by disconnecting/ removing the metra cut in at 69th st and turning it into the CTA green line.

    This actually would take very few modifications and save the City A lot of infrastructure funding as all that would be needed to added to the South shore branch is… a third rail for CTA operation, add a small 4ft brick/concrete wall with fencing along the side of the tracks, and remove the catenary wires used for metra electric. Also adding a few inches of rubber to the edge of the metra platforms ( as CTA cars are not as wide as Metras) and installing CTA turnstiles in the station houses.

    This would give the South shore area of chicago rail service every 7-15 mins, free up bus traffic in the south shore area, residents not have to operate with metras distance based fare service, free up rolling stock on the MED so, let the MED have 8 car trains instead of 6 car trains during the rush hours. Metra could do what they were intended to do which is run service from the city to the suburbs and be able to allow more service to university park. The South shore branch is the ONLY metra route that starts and terminates in the city of chicago and that is where the mistake is..

    this is what it should look like.

    Chicago also needs light rail service and thats what IMHO should be built from downtown to the high park area around the the Museum along the IC, also its need on Western ave and Cicero and other major streets for that matter.

  • I don’t understand the purpose of creating a new CTA ‘L’ infrastructure (costing Billions), instead of using the existing facilities (for $500 Million)

  • buddah

    See my post above, not only rebuild the green line down 63rd but extend it further south and have it take over the metra south shore district. That solves a lot of issues that are currently out there for under servicing the south chicago area with CTA rail transit.

  • buddah

    there is room for more frequencies on the MED just Not during the rush hours. during the morning and evening rush the MED is tapped out.

  • buddah

    instead of building under stony island another idea is to extend the green line and have CTA take over the Metra south chicago branch ( see my post above)

  • buddah

    see my above post( or below depending on your view preference) , Im in somewhat agreeance with you an entirely new ROW from downtown is almost pointless however in my post I suggest connecting the MED south chicago branch at 69th st. to the cottage grove green line. Eliminating it would only need 1.8 miles of double track and infrastructure to be built. at $250K per track mile, were looking at $1 million for tracks and possibly $100-200 million for the 2 mile infrastructure and bridge over the IC. then there needs to be modifying MED south shore branch stations to, which is a minimal cost due to the majority of the infrastructure in place. It would be in the low hundreds of millions not the Billions that are expected. in all honesty over building an entirely new ROW through the city of Chicago or using MED as A half baked stand in quazzi CTA line ( grey and gold line plans)
    However there both good ideas but horrible implementation plans .

    The red line extension to 130th St. from 95th which just over 6 miles will need a entire new ROW, new stations, and infrastructure. It is set to cost $2.3 billion. extending the green line to take over the MED south shore branch as I outlined would only cost 1/4 of that or less and serve an area that CTA should have rail service and Metra (which is supposed to serve the suburbs) should not .

  • buddah

    I have to say there is one problem I see in the Gray line EMU prototype in the link you provided. the author states the EMU will be much less to construct when that is actually False. The cost will most likely remain unchanged due to FRA crash worthiness rules and regulations it might even be higher as now there will be a special batch of Nippon EMU’s cars produced for a specific service and needing to run on the same tracks and in between regular MED and NICTD trains and the IC class 1 freight and Amtrak trains only feets away. .

  • The Gray Line EMU’s are no different than the present NICTD or MED Highliners as far as meeting FRA Requirements, they ARE already Class I Railroad equipment also.

    They would cost less because of about 20 to 30 less seats to purchase, install, and carry.

    The carframe not having to be heavilly reinforced for a trap at the center doors like the MED stock (NICTD stock has traps at the ends. and an unbroken frame.

    Grayliners would only need one trap on the operators side, they only run in pairs, and the traps would only be used for emergencies anyway, as all stations used in service have high-level platforms.

    Because of the open areas (instead of seats) around the center and end doors, they would weigh 1,000’s of pounds less (reducing operating costs).

  • Buddah, your idea would cost BILLIONS of dollars; they can’t find money for the Red Line Extension, where would the Billions for this come from?

    AGAIN, what is wrong with using the EXISTING Facilities in the same way, and who is going to make your idea into a Major Capitan Project — and submit it to CMAP?

    Also, what do you plan for the KENSINGTON trains?

  • buddah

    Mike I already explained in one of your other post this would NOT cost Billions as you stated ,I’m sorry but your numbers are far over priced best estimate $500-700 million tops. The red line extension project is stated to cost $2.3 Billion and would be 5-10X the amount of work and infrastructure needed for that project. I’m proposing a 1.8 mile extension to tie the green line into existing MED infrastructure.
    Its been don before As the CTA decades ago took over The north shore lines
    IE what we today call the Yellow and Purple lines. Yes those lines were not part of the original CTA.

    The red line extension is a 6 plus mile totally new ROW and stations that will need to be built. However you are correct the red line project cant get off the ground as the funding is not there. This plan I’ve stated would be a lot more economically feasible and give the south east chicago area the rapid rail system they need.
    Im not saying your idea wont’ work by using existing facilities and just having metra run local trains for the cta but the idea brings too many hurdles as Metra and CTA through out history don’t play very nicely. Metra wants distance based fares and does not want to help operate a gray line for the CTA and CTA wants flat rate transit, its a long up hill battle your fighting.
    However take a step back and see it from another perspective. Im proposing doing almost the same thing just in a different way. One that keeps CTA and Metra separate entities.

    Kensington trains? please elaborate as I see it would still stay kensington trains. The MED would still stay exactly as-is. It would only be losing the MED south shore branch ( it would use exclusively CTA rail cars) In essence Metra electric would only operate 2 lines ( university park & blue island) instead of 3 ( south shore branch) . kensington would be served by you guessed it… Red line extension as that was the ultimate plan that derailed the Grey line idea to begin with.

    The only problem with My idea is getting Metra to relinquish the ROW of the south shore branch as they make a pretty penny of the route as its distance based and getting CTA to commit to taking it over with more frequent trains one every 7-15 mins. Think of this as if YOU lived in the south east chicago area, A trip for a casual rider (cash fare) from the Loop to calumet park cost $3.50 to ride MED plus $2.25 for a cta bus transfer = $5.75 total. Were as the CTA by bus and train (using the red line) to the same place only cost $2.50. that is the end game to the chicago transit rider.

  • buddah

    IM NOT debating on the cost effectiveness of using cheaper seats or even saving some weight by doing so however what the greylines are is a modified interior version of the NICTD bi levels in all essence minus the end traps. Truth be told the cost of the NICTD bi – levels were almost the same in cost as Metras new Bi levels. Also in actuality the NICTD cars cost MORE than the MED version simply because you get a lower price with a larger order…
    MED Nippon cars cost…. $3.2 million each car
    NICTD Nippon cars cost…. $3.39 million each car.

    Truth be told unless your ordering more than 160 cars for the Grey line ( which there not) it wont be much less than the current cars cost. if you can show ( produce a link) the cost per actual seat on the current fleet of high lines and the cost per seat on the seats your suggesting then I’ll take it under advisement.
    Also the Nippon highlines are FRA class 1 crash read because of the design and weight you start shaving too much weight and might lose the certification or have to make modifications elsewhere to the car to get that cert back which could raise the price of the car. There was A similar debate with the Amtrak Acela sets, they could have been a LOT lighter making them faster and cheaper but they would have not attained there high-speed crash certification from the FRA.

    Im sure you know, The FRA is a very strict and technically dubious entity.

  • A question buddah, how do you imagine I managed to submit a proposal that was acceptable to the then CATS Agency; for them to accept it and place it in their RTP?

    Also, on this page find a track diagram showing how South Shore and MED University Park suburban trains would operate on the existing ROW with CTA Gray Line trains:

    Along with a screen capture of a past CATS webpage illustrating the Gray Line’s inclusion in the RTP.

  • Mark Twain

    I keep missing the study that shows ridership demands increase. Can someone link to the actual ridership study again?

  • Has this idea ever been studied?
    I’ve never heard of such a proposal, but I like it. I’m a bit concerned about adding such tight and slow turns to what should be a fast moving train (yes, I realize the Electric line already has those tight turns).

  • buddah

    Hello Steve to answer your question it was previous brought up for the green line extension I believe over 2 decades ago ( around the time of the orange line construction), At the same time also was the idea of a red line branch that would have veered off at the 63 rd st red line station gone up and over and followed I-90 ( the skyway) and end at 95th st. and I-90 , However as that would have placed 2 train line end stations just blocks from each other (Current Metra south shore ends two blocks away, both ideas were shelved waiting for studies and funding).

    I believe the Green line extension ( taking over the south MED branch ) would have been the way to go ( lower cost to build and maintain) however due to the decline in resident in Chicago and the south shore area I believe that is what stopped the progress of such a plan. However as we have seen in places like NYC areas that were once depressed (nyc meat packing district) can be revitalized and you need reliable dedicated frequent transit in the area for it to be vital. We all know for chicago the cities prime real estate is the lakefront and for CTA to be able to serve the south shore area with dependable frequent service is a vital key ingredient to the neighbourhood and its revitalization. .

    The south shore metra branch turns are sharp and slow for the Metra electric equipment as there cars are longer,taller, and heavier (MED cars are 85 ft long, 15 ft tall, 125K lbs) However CTA train cars could take the same curves on that branch 2-3X faster without any issues using the same tracks than the current metra equipment. CTA cars are better equipped for those turns( 48 ft. long, 12 ft. high, 56K lbs).

  • buddah

    M.twain…the ridership demand is coming from the residents in the area who are currently stuck on long delayed buses to CTA train stations not in the area, the ability to have frequent quick rail service brings riders to the system. Unfortunately the studies cant show an increase in ridership. however as the case with the brown line they added more frequencies and the demand grew , so much to the point that the CTA had to go and extend brown line trains from 6 to 8 cars. This is kind of the case where the phrase ” If you build it they will come. ” plays in.

  • buddah

    Fortunately for you mike you have the time to submit and follow up on these things, I am a IT specialist who is all over the country ( and canada) working contracts, for me railroading is a past time I dont have the free time you have. However as I’ve done network set up for certain railroads and have ridden a number of transit systems I’ve seen in my own experiences what works and what semi works and what just stays broken. With that said as I stated I’m not knocking your Idea ( I’ve seen your included map detail) but there are other ideas that would serve the same purpose for a more streamlined CTA system, that all my proposal for a green line extension over the grey line take over would do.

    PS: where would you store the extra MED converted to CTA equipment? and where would they be maintained? As Im sure you know Metra is not looking to service any other equipment even if the cars are nearly identical to there own. you will nneed maintenance and storage for these cars Also As I stated Metra is not interested in “playing nice” with the CTA or using there fare structure. so please make that part of your submitted suggestion.

    With my Idea of the green line extension ( taking over the southshore MED branch CTA cars could be stored at the Old not in use IC yard, over grown with trees and now used for dumping trash just south @ E 83rd Place next to the Souh shore branch ( enough space for a mid size CTA yard), or the empty lot just south of the 93st station ( the space is just wide enough and long enough for 6-7 trains with 8 car train lengths). With my idea The cars would be serviced at existing CTA rail shops which would bringing down the cost of maintenance.

  • buddah

    I definitely understand your point mike and applaud you for your efforts unlike most IL politicians who always have an agenda or there hand in the cookie jar you are the man on the outside looking in on how to improve something for the good of the people and if you read my latest comment as to my location you know I don’t live in Chicago ether or have any political ties, were just men with Ideas to better Chicago residents future.
    Disclaimer: I did live in Chicago as a child and teenager and took the CTA frequently ( I moved out in the late 90s) so my suggestion of a Green line extension benefits me none either.

  • Mark Twain

    Yeah, that’s not how it works. You may believe that form your arm chair planning conference it is, but studies are actually done to project ridership growth, residual economic growth, etc. The brown line was extended to 8 car trains to reduce the number of contrary movements at Clark Junction and to reduce the labor required to run peak/shoulder peak trains.

  • buddah

    Well Sorry to let you know there are many situations where where Multiple expensive studies are done and nothing ever comes of it and when it does come the studies are wrong. ” Example: Chicago’s Block 37 superstation” However I can Not take anything serious from some one who can’t even use spell check and Misspells “From”. Sorry, I don’t sunday arm chair quarterback such as you do.

    Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying A study is not feasible however in many cases there usually not worth the cost that’s associated with them and in many of these situations are repeatedly done at tax payers expense with no ROI. We can agree to disagree.

  • Mark Twain

    Apologies for the type-o. I was too busy actually doing work in the transit industry. I recommend you agree to disagree based on having no merit or technical and/or political understanding of how transit works, the needs it serves, and how economic growth happens over time with TOD, new initiatives, etc.



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