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Kam Buckner: South Shore and MED runs stop at the same stations, so why don’t we let South Shore trains pick up MED riders?

Hopefully Buckner and other cool heads at the railroads and local transportation agencies will prevail to find a solution.

6:33 PM CST on December 19, 2023

Kam Buckner waiting for a Metra Rock Island Line train at the station named after his predecessor, 35th St. – Lou Jones. It’s located at 106 W. 35th St. in Chicago. Photo: Provided

This post is sponsored by Ride Illinois.

State Rep. Kam Bucker (D- 26th), whose district includes parts of Chicago's South Lakefront and downtown, has supported improved road safety; a Transit Omnibus bill; making DuSable Lake Shore Drive more people-friendly; and even electric bike rebates.

Buckner recently turned his attention towards an effort to allow Metra Electric District customers to also ride on South Shore Line trains, and get South Shore trains to pick up riders at all stops. He has written a letter pitching that idea to Metra, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (which runs the South Shore Line), the Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees Metra, CTA, and Pace.

"I live along the Metra Electric and I have often wished I could take advantage of the South Shore trains to catch a ride up to Millennium Station," Buckner wrote in the letter. "That, however, is currently prohibited. Many Chicagoans, have stood on the platform of our Museum Campus, watched a South Shore train pull up, open the doors, and been told by the conductor they are not allowed to enter that train to ride, I have had that exact experience. The doors close and they are left at the station, waiting for the next Metra train."

"Electric Sibling Rivalry": Old Metra Electric Highliner and NICTD South Shore Line Trains Side by Side at Randolph Street. Photo: Jeff Zoline

"I will be facilitating meetings with all parties to push for a solution," Buckner told Streetsblog. "As a legislator, I am happy to write legislation, but I wanted to first have conversations with the stakeholders so that if we could get where we need to go without legislation. I'd be happy about that as well." 

Buckner said the rider limit policy was based on an old non-compete clause between Metra and the South Shore Line that existed because the railroads were using the same tracks but didn’t want to "steal each other's customers." He added, that’s the "type of thinking is how we got to where we are. These entities need to start finding ways to collaborate for the good of regional public transportation and those who want to utilize it."

In his letter, Buckner also noted that, with a rapidly approaching transit fiscal cliff, NICTD and Metra shouldn’t be restricting service and making transit less convent. "Imagine a new 'airport' on the tracks — perhaps near the Obama Center — to serve millions of passengers (and potentially even electrified freight) on high-speed electrified tracks and trains headed east from Chicago, beyond South Bend on new tracks to connect up to Michigan or even to the Acela [Amtrak high-speed train] along the East Coast. Together, we can plan and build for major investments in our region centered on our shared transportation assets."

Buckner rides the CTA Red Line. Photo: Provided

Besides Buckner’s firsthand experience of not being able to ride a South Shore train, he said this exact issue has repeatedly come up when he has spoken to not only his neighbors on the Mid-South Side, but also with transit advocates throughout the city. He said Attorney General Kwame Raoul has also worked on this issue, and the conversations the two of them have had on the subject helped the state rep. think it through.

"We are at an interesting point in our region's transit history, and as many other regions are providing increased frequency and the opposite has happened here, we should find ways that don't require new infrastructure and new dollars to make it easier for people to get around," Buckner told Streetsblog. "In the case of NICTD and the Metra Electric, it would not require more infrastructure. The tracks are already there, and the trains are already stopping. They just need to change an archaic policy."

The transit-oriented Twitter account Star:Line Chicago posted, "[The South Shore Line-Metra rules are] a Matryoshka doll of goofy policies. NICTD pays Metra to use the MED [tracks] to get downtown, but they can’t serve Metra passengers except for [in] Hegewisch, which is a Metra station that Metra pays NICTD to serve on Metra’s behalf, but Hegewisch riders pay NICTD fares, not Metra fares."

Confusing, isn't it? Well hopefully Buckner and other cool heads at the railroads and local transportations agencies will prevail to find a solution.

Read Buckner's letter here.

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