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Metra Launching New Reverse Commute Service to Lake County Next Month

A Metra UP-N train at Lake Forest station. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Thanks to a deal between Metra and Lake County businesses and governments, traveling from Chicago to the North Shore for work is about to become more convenient. A two-year reverse-commute service pilot kicks off on March 4 on the Milwaukee District North Line, Metra announced today. The first phase of the new schedule will change slightly during a second phase, pending an agreement with Canadian Pacific railroad, which shares the tracks.

Metra and Lake County Partners, the local economic development corporation, worked together to look into the viability of increased service and propose the pilot. The groups will evenly split the $1.4 million cost of operating one new reverse-commute train in each rush period as part of a two-year demo project. They will also work on an agreement to divide the $4.75 million cost of installing universal crossovers near Lake Forest, with the partners chipping in $2.75 million, Metra contributing $1 million and local governments forking over $1 million.

“We are excited to launch this test of new reverse-commute service between Chicago and Lake County,” said Metra CEO Jim Derwinski. “We are hopeful that this initiative will build our ridership, help local businesses to recruit top talent, and have a positive impact on economic activity in Lake County. This partnership also is an innovative way to test the demand for service to Lake County and potentially improve our infrastructure.”

The planning process for the pilot got its start at a Metra Board meeting in April 2018, when Lake County officials asked Metra to explore ways to improve reverse-commute service to the county in order to make jobs in the area more accessible to Chicagoans. They also argued that better train service would reduce congestion and pollution and improve employee productivity and satisfaction. AbbVie, Horizon Pharma, Trustmark Insurance, Tenneco, Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, Lake County government, the city of Lake Forest and the village of Deerfield are participating in the agreement.

“With this new service, it is now easy to live downtown and work in Lake County,” said Lake County Partners president Kevin Considine. “This is a tremendous opportunity for city dwellers to build careers at any of our globally recognized companies.”

Metra’s current schedule is less than steller for reverse-commute riders to and from the Lake Forest, Deerfield and Lake-Cook Road stations, the stations closest to several major employers, including AbbVie, Horizon Pharma and others. There are no morning outbound express trains, and the afternoon trains are either too early or too late for most workers.

Under the new schedule, Metra has added a new outbound express Train 2191, departing Union Station at 6:25 a.m. and arriving in Lake Forest at 7:15 a.m. The train will make all stops in Chicago between Union Station and Edgebrook and then operate as an express to Lake Cook Road. (Pending the agreement with CP, which is expcted soon, this train will be moved to an earlier slot, departing Union Station at 5:35 a.m. and arriving at Lake Forest at 6:25 a.m.)

Metra also changed the schedule of one inbound afternoon train (2146) to create express service from Lake County, and added a new Train 2194, departing from Lake Forest at 5:35 p.m. and arriving at Union Station at 6:26 p.m. The schedule of Train 2148, which now arrives at Union Station at 6:11 p.m., would be pushed back three minutes.

There would also be a few other schedule adjustments to help relieve crowding or to better reflect actual operating conditions:

    • A new morning inbound Train 2192 will depart Lake Forest at 7:48 a.m., making stops at Lake Cook Road, North Glenview, Golf, Edgebrook and Western before arriving at Union Station at 8:40 a.m. That should relieve crowding on Train 2120, which will now make fewer stops and have a slightly adjusted schedule, and Train 2122, whose schedule will remain the same.
    • Later evening Trains 2154 and 2160 will have their departure times shifted back by 5 to 8 minutes. North Central Service Train 120 (which uses the Milwaukee North tracks) will have its schedule moved up by 5 minutes.
    • Outbound rush hour Trains 2145 and 2147, which now depart Union Station at 5:58 p.m. and 6:19 p.m., would now depart at 6:05 p.m. and 6:25 p.m.
    • Pending an agreement with CP, which is anticipated soon, a new outbound Train 2193 will be added to the schedule, departing Union Station at 3:20 p.m. and making stops at Western, Healy, Morton Grove, Glenview, North Glenview, Northbrook, Lake Cook, Deerfield and arriving in Lake Forest at 4:14 p.m.

If the pilot project gets good ridership that indicates that there will be enough fare income to make the service sustainable in the long run, the partners agree to enter into an agreement to fund the construction of the new universal crossovers near the Lake Forest Station. A crossover allows trains to switch between tracks. Constructing crossovers at Lake Forest would allow Metra to turn trains around at that location, which would create an opportunity for better service in the morning and evening rush periods if demand supported it.

Will the new service change the way you commute, or make you more likely to take a job in the North Shore in the future? Tell us about it in the comments.

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