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Metra Seeks More Spare Train Cars, Better E-Alerts

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UP West Metra Train

Metra Train (Credit: Rick Kramer/CBS)

roberts250 Bob Roberts
Bob Roberts is a native of Wilmette who has worked in Chicago media...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Metra is taking steps to address two persistent problems that have angered riders this winter: outdated or useless E-alerts and overcrowded trains.

It soon hopes to give you E-alerts about trains at specific times, not just for specific lines. While Executive Director Don Orseno won’t give a starting date, he told the Regional Transportation Authority board of directors Wednesday that he expects the upgrade to be available later this year.

Riders complained that many E-alerts were outdated before they received the messages. Orseno said Metra sends an average on 29 E-alerts on an average weekday. On Jan. 6, with fresh snow on the ground and temperatures of -15F, it sent 261. The next day it sent 211.

The crowding was blamed on a high number of snow-damaged cars. Orseno said, to resolve the problem, Metra will go again to the market for used bilevels. Orseno said he fully expects to lease cars Metra gave away nearly a decade ago.

“That could be,” he said. “They’re definitely going to be, what we’re going to be leasing, the same type of car, a bilevel type car.”

There is a limited market for such cars, but Orseno said Metra will inspect cars for lease or sale in Vermont, Michigan and Virginia.

Metra wants spare cars equal to 10 percent of its fleet. The current 4 percent was not nearly enough with the door and brake problems encountered since the first of the year, coupled with ongoing rehabilitation projects.

In its first venture into the used bilevel market, Metra repurchased about 20 cars, all of 1950s vintage, several years ago. Then-Chairman Carole Doris derisively referred to them as “bake sale specials,” but Metra gave each a $23,000 clean-up and put them into service, scattered across the Metra system. Orseno said Mertra will continue to run them only until Metra can afford to buy new bilevels, a purchase dependent upon as yet-unsecured state and federal funding.

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