Discussion related to commuter rail and rapid transit operations in the Chicago area including the South Shore Line, Metra Rail, and Chicago Transit Authority.

Moderators: JamesT4, metraRI

  by daybeers
eolesen wrote: Wed Mar 25, 2020 3:55 am Huh. We're in the middle of a viral crisis that seems to be spread where there's high density housing and a huge reliance on public transit.

And we should encourage more of that?.... There's a reason that the counties *outside* Metra's service area have only 1-5 cases compared to hundreds in the counties adjacent to Cook...

Are you serious? So because of a global pandemic, India should do something about its massive population density? China? Many other cities around the world?

You have to remember this is an unusual situation and that the rate of testing in many countries, including the United States, is still incredibly low. High density and mass transit saves the planet both environmentally and health-wise. There's a problem to every solution, but does that mean we should go back to everyone in single-family homes in suburban areas driving cars everywhere? Absolutely not. This worldwide issue is so much more complex than "high density and mass transit spread the virus faster."

The U.S. took far too long to take action, and still hasn't taken enough. Here's a good article on NYC density in this pandemic: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/24/upsh ... risks.html

PM me for further discussion.
  by eolesen
Say what you want about the environment, but I do suspect there will be a fair number of people re-thinking their housing choices and leaving cities, particularly those who wind up with kids 8-10 months from now...
  by njtmnrrbuff
People who live in immediate suburbs who are type to drive a lot, with the exception of driving into the city, will flock to those outer suburbs and exurbs to save money. Since the UP West Line was extended from Geneva to Elburn, that has helped people who live in the outer suburbs and exurbs along the UP West Line. I believe that the UP W Line runs 70 miles and there are probably people who commute from Elburn and Geneva to Chicago or at east, they are commuting to jobs in Oak Park. I did a roundtrip from Chicago to Elburn and back in 2010 and was amazed of the number of cars that I saw parked at the Elburn commuter lot. I did the trip on a weekday.
  by chirailfan
Elburn is 44 miles west of Chicago. However there are people that drive from DeKalb, IL to Elburn to catch the train. DeKalb is 15 miles directly to the west of Elburn and the UP runs through the middle of DeKalb. It’s also the home of Northern Illinois University (NIU). There’s been some talk of extending Metra service to DeKalb. Probably don’t see it happening though.
  by Tadman
I have current and former relatives in the burbs, in different cases.

My sister lives in walking distance to a BNSF stop. It's amazing. No need to fire up the car, find parking, etc.. and it helps get your 10k steps in. I would chose this if I had to live in the burbs.

My ex-wife's parents live in a further out suburb, not within walking distance to a station. Downtown Geneva (a walking-centric station) and LaFox (a parking lot station) were equidistant. I hated when they dropped/picked me at downtown Geneva anywhere near rush hour. It required going downtown and navigating PITA small streets and standing areas. Compared to La Fox, where there was four-lane access to a large parking lot with generous kissandride lane.

My uncle lives in a suburb closer in, but never commutes by train. He has no desire to live near a walkable station because the housing values go way up, and so do taxes.

So it's important to consider what your needs are before choosing a favorite. If you don't commute regularly, don't buy a house near the tracks. If you don't live within walking distance, don't try to use the walkable stations.
  by njtmnrrbuff
Woops, I got the distance from Elburn to Chicago mixed up with the time that it takes. Let's use an example of a town in MBTA land in relation to Downtown Boston and compare it to the distance from Elburn to Chicago. For example, traveling from South Attleboro Station to Downtown Boston is 44 miles, just like from Elburn to Chicago. Like the UP-W Line being straight in many spots with not too sharp curves, the stretch of the NEC in Massachusetts that is used by MBTA trains is very straight. South Attleboro is a park n ride lot and people who live well past Providence closer to the RI/MA state line take MBTA out of S. Attleboro when heading to Boston. There are probably people who live in Southwestern Bristol County, MA who drive to South Attleboro rather than having to drive into Downtown Providence to get an MBTA commuter train. In 2022, a brand new station will be opening up in Pawtucket so that may cause some more passengers who live in Pawtucket and Central Falls to just get the train in Pawtucket. South Attleboro is a park n ride lot station.
Buff: It is 44 miles to PROVIDENCE from South Station-Boston.
Source: Amtrak Timetable with Mileages.

What you need to do is refer to a timetable or ETT with exact distances.


These outer end "parking lot" stations are designed to be "magnet" stations to draw ridership from a distance radius around them.

The best example is the LIRR Ronkonkoma Station - which is the second highest
ridership station on the LIRR (Hicksville is #1) which is 50 miles east of Manhattan.
(busiest stations in Nassau and Suffolk Counties outside the City of New York)

Route 59 on the BNSF is a great example of a "magnet" station. There is likely overflow from Aurora to the west and Naperville to the east in terms of parking.

CRF: It would make perfect sense to extend Metra service west from Elburn to DeKalb
to tap into the large NIU student market there - would a grant subsidy from DeKalb County for this 15 mile extension be enough without having to join the Metra area
tax districts?

There needs to be - and seems to be - a reasonable balance between center of town stations and parking lot stations - which are built on previously undeveloped land
outside of towns. This type of balance usually works well for rail commuting...
  by Engineer Spike
One point which wasn't mentioned is the total population. What I mean is that sure, there are those who do not want, or can't afford to live in Chicagoland. As we all know, in the 1970-1990s+ there was a big building boom. I used to work with a conductor who was a Naperville native. Back when I was working with him, he used to talk about how that town was just a quiet village. Obviously it was developed. The question is why. Was it just because of urban flight? It might have been partly the reason. How much has the population grown, to the point where the availability of housing has been outstripped by the boom in population. There really isn't any room to build new houses in the suburbs. The only recourse is to build in the formerly rural towns beyond the circumference of the EJ&E. As those towns become developed, not only will rail service have to expand, but also the road and other public transit infrastructure.
  by eolesen
Many of the outer communities are outside Cook County, which has ridiculous property taxes. I'm about a half mile outside Cook County, and my property taxes are about half what they'd be for a comparable property inside Cook.

Naperville sits across the DuPage and Will County line, which borders Cook.

Aurora, St. Charles, most of Elgin, Geneva and Elburn are Kane County, which doesn't border Cook.

There is still new construction going on within Cook -- my parents' neighborhood has been seeing a lot of teardown-newbuild activity over the past 15 years. Houses built in the 1960's may not be desirable but the land sure is to someone who wants that particular school district or train stop and money isn't a barrier.
  by njtmnrrbuff
Come to Montclair, NJ where I live, taxes are extremely high in that town. In fact, in a lot of Essex County where Montclair is, the taxes are very high. The NJT rail service serving Essex County is unreliable. Just like any other suburban community that has train or bus stations, new retail and residential development keeps going up in the towns outside of NYC. In Montclair, new apartments continue to go up within a half a mile from the Bay Street NJT Station. New Jersey, in general, residents pay the highest taxes, especially in many of the towns served by NJT's Montclair-Boonton Line including Montclair(six NJT rail stations), the Morris & Essex Line communities of South Orange, Maplewood, Millburn, and Summit, as well as the Raritan Valley Line communities like Cranford and Westfield. South Orange, Maplewood, and Millburn are in Essex County. Summit, Cranford, and Westfield are in Union County. Summit is on the border of Essex and Morris County. The majority of the NJT rail stations in Essex County-more people walk to them over driving to them. Bay Street Station is a parking garage and it isn't in the heart of Downtown Mtc but maybe close to a mile. I think unlike the size of the counties in NJ, the size of the counties in Illinois are bigger. I know that Cook County is large.
  by chirailfan
MACTRAXX wrote: Thu Mar 26, 2020 1:02 pm CRF: It would make perfect sense to extend Metra service west from Elburn to DeKalb
to tap into the large NIU student market there - would a grant subsidy from DeKalb County for this 15 mile extension be enough without having to join the Metra area
tax districts?
This would probably be similar with what Kendall County is doing to get service on the BNSF extended from Aurora. Just like Kendall County, DeKalb County is not part of the RTA.

The bigger question here would be is UP for it? Aside from UP wanting out of operating Metra service, infrastructure would most certainly need to be upgraded west of Elburn.
  by njtmnrrbuff
Metro North Railroad's longest direct route from GCT is longer than Metra. The longest MNR direct route is the Harlem Line, which ends up at Wassaic, a park n ride lot station located in the Town of Amenia, located in Dutchess County, NY, 82 miles from Grand Central Terminal. I think in the MTA contract of the towns in NY State, MNR can only travel as far north as Dutchess County. Wassaic is far enough away anyway. That's where there was enough space for a park n ride lot. The Harlem Line used to go to Chatham when the New York Central ran the line. Chatham is in Columbia County. The Wassaic Station doesn't just see passengers who are coming from and heading to Amenia and other towns in Dutchess County. You have people coming from Columbia County in NY State as well as towns in Northwestern Connecticut and the Berkshires in MA.

I guess the one Metra station that isn't too far off distance wise in its entirety from an outlying Metro North station is Harvard, located 70 miles from Downtown Chicago. That's probably almost the same distance from Poughkeepsie to Grand Central Terminal on Metro North.
  by eolesen
Harvard is the furthest point in Illinios. Arguably, you can't look at Metra without also looking at NICTD (Indiana), and that's 90 miles.

Regardless, on a heatmap of boardings, it looks like 45-50 miles is where you see a notable dropoff in ridership, which on that Harvard line is Crystal Lake, and on the NICTD is Michigan City.

If Metra were able to expand into neightboring counties (or states in the case of Wisconsin) without the county-buy-in requirement, that curve might be able to push out a bit more towards 65 miles. But politics keep the boundaries where they are, and it influences the housing market accordingly.
  by njtmnrrbuff
Many commuter rail systems that have routes that continue beyond 40-50 miles, the ridership will begin to drop off for those traveling all the way to the city but it's still pretty high for people traveling to the city 40-50 miles from where they boarded the train. I noticed that when riding the South Shore in 2013, many of the stations are park 'n' ride lot stations that are more than 40 miles from Millennium Station. I know that many of the South Shore Trains don't go east of Carroll Ave Station in Michigan City. That's a little bit of a distance for somebody to be commuting five days a week each way to Chicago but I'm sure that many people make that commute. Now, I know that the double track project on the South Shore Line to South Bend will be happening and that will reduce travel time considerably as well as provide more trains, I know that more people are moving to NW Indiana and when the SSL double track project is completed, ridership will go up a lot on the SSL trains.
  by justalurker66
Latest figures from the Census Bureau (2015):
42,490 people from Lake County work in Cook County
5,149 people from Porter County work in Cook County
1,022 people from LaPorte County work in Cook County
503 people from Jasper County work in Cook County
281 people from St Joseph County work in Cook County

The South Shore's largest stations are in Hegewisch IL, Hammond IN and East Chicago IN (Lake County). Gary is the end of the double track and the end of the line for a few Chicago-Gary trains (that will change with Double Track Indiana extending the Chicago-Gary trains to the Miller station and connected parking lot). Most trains are Chicago-Michigan City with ridership dropping off east of Ogden Dunes and Dune Park (two Porter County parking lot stations - Dune Park attracts the Valparaiso commuters). Michigan City (LaPorte County) Carroll Ave is the last big parking lot. The few trains that work their way east of Michigan City go to the airport in South Bend (with a flag stop in Hudson Lake - how quaint!). South Bend is the only St Joseph County station with Hudson Lake just west of the county line in LaPorte County.

The weekday trains follow the commuter flows - on weekends nearly all trains run the entire route Chicago-South Bend (weekend pleasure trips including half cars dedicated to bicycles). One has to be careful as to when the last train leaves for South Bend unless one drives to Michigan City or beyond.

Pricing makes South Bend an option for a lone rider. Two people would work ($41 Millennium Park parking vs $28.50 round trip per person train tickets). Ogden Dunes/Dune Park are popular for $18 round trip per person. Hammond/East Chicago are $14 round trip per person. The South Shore offers discounts or free rides for children and has run other promotions such as free westbound travel, charging only for the trip home.

(The last time I paid for Millennium Park parking it was $20. The rates have gone up faster than the train rates!)

The big challenge is where one goes after they reach Chicago. Walking distance from a station or pay for another ride? There are plenty of companies within walking distance and (for the South Shore) the trains end on the lakefront where there are a lot of tourist attractions (and free shuttles). As with any public transportation trip, one must plan around the public transit schedule.