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 doepack
How exactly, does Metra go about assigning train numbers for revenue trips?

Some routes, like BNSF seem to follow a certain logical pattern, most weekday trains are in the 1200 series and the weekend trains are in the 1300 series. The same can be said of UP-NW service, with weekday and weekend service in the 600 and 700 series respectively. What I can't figure out though, is why the SWS, HC, and UP-W lines all have train numbers 17 and 19 in the schedule.

Then there's RI. Trains here are in the 400, 500 and 600 series, yet Metra Electric service also uses the 400 and 500 series for the rush hour trains to the South Chicago and Blue Island branches. And in apparent illogical twist, train number 702 is used for the 6:24pm Sat & Sun departure from Joliet, while this number is also used on the 6:35 Sat morning departure from Harvard on the UP-NW line.

I understand that certain numbers can't be used due to deadhead moves, but shouldn't every train Metra runs in revenue service have it's own unique train number? Is there an actual system at work here, or is just arbitrary, where numerical logic is only randomly applied to certain routes?

  by MikeF
The reason for the overlap in Metra train numbers is that the numbering system is a hodgepodge of predecessor railroad numbers, RTA numbers and Metra numbers. It doesn't really matter that some numbers overlap because the trains on different districts are dispatched by different railroads and don't need to be differentiated from each other. The "Metra system" is more cohesive on paper than it is in actual operation.

UP and BNSF trains use numbers from those railroads. I think BN train numbers were changed back in the '80s, but some train numbers on the UP lines can be traced back several decades into C&NW timetables. One example that comes to mind is the train I see every morning on my way to work, UP-NW #608, which runs on nearly the same schedule C&NW #608 did back in the '70s.

The numbering system on the Milwaukee District was formed when the RTA took over operations in the late '70s. A 2 was added to the beginning of the old three-digit Milwaukee Road train numbers, giving us the four-digit numbers we know today.

If I recall correctly, the SouthWest Service, Heritage Corridor, Rock Island and Metra Electric districts use all use numbers based on those of their predecessor railroads, with some minor changes. The numbers for North Central Service trains were created by Metra.
Last edited by MikeF on Mon May 16, 2005 7:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

  by doepack
Mike, it's funny you should mention the role that the predecessor railroads played here, because that precise thought came to mind as I was reading the book about classic railroad terminals. The discussion about the 5/1/71 formation of Amtrak and the fact that many train numbers were imported from the old railroads onto the new Amtrak schedules kind of led me to believe that the same logic applied here. I forgot about the different dispatching desks that control Metra traffic as well, so maybe this isn't as illogical as I first thought. Thanks for the edification...

  by metraRI
From a 1972 Rock Island Schedule, RI did indeed use some of the same numbers that Metra uses today. Metra replaced RI's 100 and 200 series with 600 and 400. The 300 series express from Blue Island has stayed the same as did the 500 series from Joliet using the branch.

Metra should look at Rock Island's old schedule for help on a new schedule for RI. Rock Island had five express trains on Saturday and a Tinley Park weekday express.

You can tell how much the south suburbs have grown as it looks like the major business in 1972 came from the Beverly Branch with some weekday trains running less than 6 minutes apart.