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Metra Plans to Add Real-Time Arrival Displays at up to 10 Stations Next Spring

The Prairie Crossing North Central Service Line station is a possible candidate to get the screens. Photo: Igor Studenkov

The Metra Board of Directors voted unanimously during its August 14 meeting to approve a package of bids that included something that will come in handy for more casual Metra riders -- real-time train arrival information displays.

These sorts of displays have become a regular feature on CTA ‘L’ platforms, and they've started to show up at some major Pace transfer points and the new Pulse Milwaukee express bus service. But Metra doesn’t have anything like that outside the downtown Chicago terminals.

As I wrote back in May, real-time arrival displays was one of the features Metra planned to introduce to encourage more weekend riders. There is enough money to put displays at 10 stations. While Metra hasn’t decided which stations those will be yet, they will give priority to stations served by multiple lines.

Metra awarded the contact to Global Display Solutions of Rockford. The company submitted the lowest viable bid of $2,999,975. The bid includes the displays themselves, as well as other equipment necessary to mount and run them.

In addition to real-time arrival information, the displays will show safety announcements and weather information -- similar to the ‘L’ station displays. It's not clear whether the screens will include ads.

Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis said that if additional funding becomes available, Metra will add more displays. Gillis added that Metra isn't entirely sure when it will finalize the list of 10 stations.

Looking outside of downtown Chicago, there are several obvious candidates. Gillis mentioned the Western Avenue station, which is served by the Milwaukee District North, Milwaukee District West, and North Central Service lines. The latter two use the same tracks until the River Grove station, but the North Central Service doesn’t make any intermediate stops. Since the North Central Service line splits off right after River Grove, the station is a logical transfer point -- and a logical stop to benefit from displays.

Blue Island Station's Rock Island Line main line branch platforms (left) and Beverly/Suburban branch platforms (right.) Photo: Igor Studenkov
Blue Island Station's Rock Island Line main line branch platforms (left) and Beverly/Suburban branch platforms (right.) Photo: Igor Studenkov
Blue Island Station's Rock Island Line main line branch platforms (left) and Beverly/Suburban branch platforms (right.) Photo: Igor Studenkov

On the Metra Electric Line, while the 63rd Street station is the last stop before the South Chicago branch splits off, only a few of the branch’s trains stop at this station. That’s why the 55th-56th-57th station and, to a lesser extent, the 59th Street/University of Chicago station tend to serve as transfer points. The former is also a South Shore Line station. Kensington/115th Station is the spot where the Blue Island branch splits off. Blue Island branch trains and some main line trains, make flag stops between that station and 63rd Street.

The Clybourn station is located at the spot where the Union Pacific North and Union Pacific Northwest lines diverge. Unlike the three examples above, the two lines use different platforms, reducing the confusion, but Gillis said that this station would be a valid candidate as well. Similarly, the Joliet Gateway Center serves as the terminal for both Rock Island District and Heritage Corridor lines and a stop for Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle trains. The Heritage Corridor and Amtrak trains stop at the platform west of the center building, while Rock Island District trains stop at the south platform.

Other obvious candidates are the Blue Island and Blue Island/Vernon Street stations, which are located across the street from each other. The former is the terminal for Metra Electric Line’s Blue Island branch, while the latter is a spot where the Rock Island District Line’s main and Beverly/Suburban branches converge. Similarly, Libertyville has two Prairie Crossing stations located within walking distance of each other - one serving the Milwaukee District North Line and one serving North Central Service lines.

While the Gresham station, located near where Rock Island District Line’s two branches split, might seem like a logical choice, a look at the current schedule reveals that most trains using the main branch don’t actually stop there -- especially during the weekends. The majority of trains on both branches do stop at the 35th Street/Lou Jones/Bronzeville station, making it a more logical choice.

Gillis said Metra expects to start installation of the displays next spring.

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