Change to UP-West Schedule Left Some Customers Stranded on the Platform

Metra UPW Train at Oak Park
A Metra Union Pacific West train at Oak Park. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Streetsblog Reader and former Transport Notes blogger Alan Robinson contacted us on Monday, concerned that a poorly publicized change to Metra’s Union Pacific West Line schedule that started that day would lead to riders missing their trains. The line runs from the Ogilvie Center to the small town of Elburn, stopping at suburbs like Oak Park, Elmhurst, Wheaton, and Geneva along the way.

The schedule change affects off-peak inbound trains 44 to 54, leaving Elburn between the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and post-evening rush runs 62 to 70. The trains, which generally run at one-hour intervals, would leave the station seven minutes earlier than shown on the published schedule.

Robinson, who commutes from Oak Park to Fermilab, said he’d only heard about the upcoming UP-W schedule change from an announcement made by a conductor the previous Friday, and by a posting on Pace’s Batavia Call-N-Ride schedule. (Call-n-Rides offer reservation-based, curb-to-curb, shared-ride service for anyone within the designated service area.)

Robinson was worried that many regular passengers who had missed the memo would be a few minutes late for their usual train and would be stuck waiting the better part of an hour for the next run. So he took it upon himself to print up some flyers explaining the new schedule change.

On Monday Robinson biked from Oak Park to Bellwood stopping at all the Metra stations in between to tape up the notices by the posted schedules. He observed that while the new schedule had been posted at several of the six stations, a couple of them still had the old one up, and the Maywood stop didn’t have any schedule on display at all. After boarding at Bellwood, he gave the flyers to departing passengers and asked them to hang them at their stations.

Robinson hung flyers by the timetables at stations to alert customers of the schedule change. Photo: Alan Robinson

Coming home on the train in the late afternoon Robinson talked with Pat Schultz, who regularly commutes west from Oak Park to one of the stations near Wheaton. Schultz, who has a hearing impairment, hadn’t noticed any announcements about the schedule change, and thanks Robinson for the info. “Seven minutes can make or break it,” Schultz told him. “Once you have the schedule down, you know when it’ll be there.”

On the way home, Robinson also talked with a conductor who said that while he was instructed to announce the schedule change the previous Friday, he wasn’t told to do so on Monday, the day the change took effect. Robinson noted that, based on a Metra press release, similar schedule changes were coming to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Line, which runs from Union Station to Aurora. The conductor said he hadn’t heard about those upcoming changes.

“It’s all about freight, that’s what the railroads care about,” the conductor said. Robinson says the UP-W schedule change was designed to keep Metra trains from delaying freight trains entering and exiting Union Pacific’s Proviso yard in Elmhurst.

Another passenger Robinson spoke with on the inbound train had tried to catch the previous run from Glen Ellyn but had missed it because the train arrived earlier than expected. The man said he only takes the train occasionally, and hadn’t heard any announcements about the change. “In total, four of six customers I spoke to did not know of the change,” Robinson told me.

He added that, as of Monday morning, the Metra website still posted the outdated pdf schedule for the UP-W, although the interactive schedule was up-to-date. “I phoned customer service to let them know, and they had it fixed promptly by noon,” he said. “I also requested for them to have a banner announcement, but there is none.”

Robinson says Metra needs to do a better job of getting the word out about these kind of schedule changes in the future. “Every Metra employee I’ve spoken with has done their job, as instructed, with professionalism and care,” he said. “But they are receiving incomplete instructions, and instructions that do not follow the tenants of competent customer service.”

  • Pat

    When dealing with infrequent trains, there simply is no excuse not to advertise the schedule change at least a week before, both online and in person. Having outdated information on their site is inexcusable.

    Can’t say I’m surprised though. I doubt many of the people who run Metra actually depend on it.

  • Chicagoan

    Agreed. Just how hard is it to have the conductors make note of change in service with a periodic announcement? My favorite CTA conductors always do this.

  • I had sent a letter to Metra last night. Several Metra executives phoned me today, and we managed to go over some of the communications failures and how to fix them. They seem to now be on top of it.

    In response to Pat below, I know that quite a few of Metra’s execs and board members do use the trains. However, most are using the trains as a suburb-to-Loop commuter, and may not always understand the needs of other types of customers.

    The biggest improvement that can be made for this schedule change may be for Metra to post change notices, (not just new schedules) in the rail cars as I’ve been doing.

    As Chicagoan below notes, conductor announcements are another part of the communications strategy that Metra has used. However, these announcements miss a lot of customers, especially those that aren’t on the train to the Loop, are zoned out, or only take the train occasionally.

    In the future, the biggest need is to increase the time between the announcement of the schedule change and its implementation.

    – Alan Robinson