Grid Bits: Englewood railroad yard; Metra asks passengers to watch conductors

In Grid Bits for Tuesday, September 20, 2011, Metra wants customers to report on customers and conductors who miss fares; Evanston wants to build an infill Yellow Line station; additional automobile crash analysis; Chicago police are looking for a hit-and-run driver; a railroad plans to expand by buying and demolishing homes in Englewood. There are 6 stories in this post.


Photo of a 5000-series Chicago Transit Authority train car at Howard station by Eric Pancer. 

Freight (1)

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Norfolk Southern (NS), a Class I railroad, is buying properties in the Englewood neighborhood in order to build an 84-acre expansion of their existing intermodal yard. An intermodal yard is where shipping containers are transferred from long-distance freight trains (from as far away as Los Angeles) to other trains or to trucks.

Some local residents do not want to move, and others want to make sure that they receive the right buyout price for their home and property. Many of the plots NS needs are vacant and owned by the City of Chicago. Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) plans to ask the City Council to delay negotiations to ensure the homeowners, the majority of whom are black, get a fair deal.

Residents have other concerns: Some homeowners are fighting the expansion, saying enough has been done in the city to move African-Americans from their homes. The article also mentions that levels of lead are high. Lastly, there are worries that the larger yard will bring more diesel fumes from the additional trucks and trains.

View Norfolk Southern intermodal yards in Englewood in a larger map


(2) Rally to support transit

Today, Tuesday, September 20, 2011, at 4 PM in the Great Hall at Union Stations, 251 N Clinton. Active Transportation Alliance has more details. Speakers include Joe Costello (current director at the Regional Transportation Authority, RTA), Steve Schlickman (former director at RTA, current director of the Urban Transportation Center at UIC), and Ron Burke (current director at Active Transportation Alliance).

(3) Paying for rides on Metra

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that after a survey Metra conducted in February 2011, in which respondents identified “fare fraud and noncollection as common concerns“, the commuter train agency has launched a marketing campaign that encourages passengers to report situations where other riders don’t pay the fare, or where conductors don’t collect it. Make a report.


A Metra conductor collects a passenger’s fare. Photo by Pedro Ribeiro. 

The “Be Fair, Pay the Fare” campaign asks riders to make reports on Metra’s website about times when they notice that conductors have not collected fares, or if other riders have skipped paying fares, or travel beyond their fare zone. Metra is also increasing the number of “observers” on trains to do the same thing.

This news comes soon after the Chicago Sun-Times interviewed conductors who didn’t like being singled out, as there are many instances where collecting all fares is difficult: during major events like Taste of Chicago, or when other conductors do not show up for work and the remaining conductors pick up that slack.

(4) New Yellow Line station(s)

The Oakton Yellow Line station is under construction in Skokie, while a new study chose Dodge and Asbury Avenues as preferred locations for a new Chicago Transit Authority station in Evanston, Illinois. The latest public meeting was last Thursday, September 15, 2011. You can view the presentation boards and drawings on the project website. There is one more unscheduled meeting; the City of Evanston is asking residents to submit their opinions on the station choices in a confidential survey. View walking times maps for each station, by Brian Derstine: Dodge, Asbury, Ridge, and his analysis of all three stations.

View Potential Yellow Line stations in Evanston, IL in a larger map

Walking (5)

Chicago police are looking for the driver of a blue or black, four-door, Ford F-150 pickup truck, whose driver (described as male) struck two pedestrians on Saturday, September 17, 2011, killing one of them, and drove off. The crash occurred in the 5700 block of West Lawrence. The Chicago Sun-Times has a photo and detailed description of the truck.

Bicycling (6)

I’ve started a project with three other people to develop a Chicago crash data browser and visualization website. While I work with Nabil on using geographic information software (GIS) to link intersections and streets with crashes, Derek and Nick are working on how to present the data. Independently, I just keep running queries on interesting factors in the data.

Did you know that in 2010 in Chicago, 49.8% of automobile crashes involving pedestrians were labeled by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) as hit-and-runs? For bicyclists, that number was 33.3%. And for all automobile crashes, including those involving pedestrians and bicyclists, 39.6% are considered hit-and-runs. Read more on crash data analysis.

9 thoughts on “Grid Bits: Englewood railroad yard; Metra asks passengers to watch conductors”

    1. I agree, but I was unaware of a possible station expansion on the Yellow Line in Evanston until the Chicago Tribune reported it (I read it in the print edition, believe it or not). It doesn’t seem that the CTA is involved in the Evanston Yellow Line station study, as the CTA has no information about it on its website. 

      We will report on all the upcoming events we know about and that are relevant to our mission, but I encourage you to follow the calendars listed in our links page.

  1. Thanks for citing my work!   Also, see my original letter to the Chicago Tribune re: paying on Metra here:

  2. Agreed that the Metra fare collection is ridiculously outdated and inefficient. Remember, this is the transit agency which only recently, well into the 21st Century, began to accept credit cards for payment at stations (and there is still no mechanism for credit card payment onboard trains). It is absurd that the busiest station on the Milwaukee North Line, Ravenswood, has no ticket selling ability–it guarantees that the majority of riders will need to purchase tickets on the train, the least efficient way to do it. And the Metra zone system is bizarre–my A-B 10-ride ticket will not take me the same single zone from B-C or G-H, which means I’m always carrying a wallet-full of 10-rides for different destinations. A ticket for one zone to another should work across the system, but it currently does not.

    Very little of this problem is due to conductors. No human conductor, in my opinion, can ever spot every single new rider, or remember exactly where their ticket leaves off and who is riding past their ticket’s limit, particularly if the passenger moves from car to car. Monthly passes and 10-ride tickets aren’t required to remain visible during the ride, past the moment of acknowledgement/clipping by the conductor. On a 10-ride, the only proof of clipping may be a conductor’s unique clip shape, not good for the rider who may be charged twice or the conductor who has to make the judgment call as to whether or not s/he has already collected a fare.

    The easiest solution would be to average out the fares and go to a single fare system, like the CTA. Station access would be only upon ticket presentation in a turnstile, so that every passenger on a platform or entering a train could be presumed to have paid the fare and no onboard collection would be necessary. Oh, but the long-range riders would be getting a discount and short trips would be overcharged. Yep, just like the CTA. It costs me the same to ride a line end-to-end as it does to ride to just the next stop, but I don’t think anyone really worries about that any more.

    If we keep the graduated zone fares that we now have, automated ticket machines (like on the Metra Electric) and automatic turnstiles could be used, as long as a passenger would need to reinsert the ticket on leaving the station, as they do in London. The ticket encodes the start point and if the rider has overshot the paid-for destination, the exit turnstile won’t work and an attendant wanders over to collect the extra fare. It’s fast, mostly automated, largely labor-free and fair to all riders.

    Another possibility is the “carrot and stick” approach I’ve seen in Munich. No one ever looks at your ticket; you ride on the honor system. Mostly. Once in a while, an inspector will pop up on the train and examine everyone’s ticket. Those caught cheating are subject to arrest, very high fines and imprisonment. Everyone’s too scared to not ride honestly.



    1. I didn’t realize that about the A-B zone ticket. Metra should be selling “1 zone” and “x zone” tickets. Playing devil’s advocate, though, I think that using the lettered zones is easier for conductors to quickly comprehend when inspecting your ticket. Otherwise they may have to count the number of zones you’ll be passing through when verifying that you have the correct ticket for your trip. 

      I paid for a ticket the other day with a credit card. It was fast and easy. Probably just as fast as cash, but easier for both them and me. Taking credit cards on-board seems like a sensible next step. I think the “universal fare card” transformation could deal with this (the legislation was vague, it’s up to RTA to figure out implementation). 

      I don’t think turnstiles would work on regional rail. It’s rare to find that in the world (I can only think of it in Japan, but they have a different rail beast).

  3. Metra on-board fare collection over-burdened more than derelict, especially at stations where hundreds may board a train without agents for selling 1-way tickets.  If it takes half a minute to collect each cash fare, that’s only ten fares collected if the next stop is only 5 minutes away; and that does not allow punching 10-rides.  Each 10-ride takes about 5 seconds, about 12 a minute, and maybe 60 tickets in five minutes; but can the conductor keep track of the little punches?  My solution would be 1-way flash ticket vending machines on platforms good for that day only.  Cash, bank card, or RTA debit card could be used.  The RTA debit card would afford the same discount as for the 10-ride the new 1-ways would replace.

  4. Harvard is 63 miles from the loop while some Metra stations are less than a mile from the terminating station.  If you charge one fare people in Harvard would love it, people in Hyde Park wouldn’t and many Hyde Parkers would switch over to CTA thus resulting in lost revenue.  The zone system, while confusing is a necessary evil when dealing with a 60 mile long commuter rail system. 

    I’d personally like to see more ticket machines at stations.  I think most people would purchase tickets this way, freeing up the conductors time and reducing the number of unpaid fares.

    1. Vending machines would deal with the “I want to pay with credit card on-board” issue, make it easier for customers to understand the fare structure, and disallow error fares (when the conductor makes a mistake in calculating the passenger’s fare – I have no idea how often this happens, of if it’s a problem).

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