An outbound North Central Service train approaches Schiller Park station in June 2019, being led by an Ex-Amtrak EMD F59PHI.

(MoverMiles, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Metra logo blue lettering.

METRA

Metra (reporting mark METX) is the primary commuter rail system in the Chicago metropolitan area serving the city of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs via the Union Pacific Railroad, BNSF Railway, and other railroads. The system operates 242 stations on 11 rail lines. It is the fourth busiest commuter rail system in the United States by ridership and the largest and busiest commuter rail system outside the New York City metropolitan area. In 2022, the system had a ridership of 23,726,400, or about 154,200 per weekday as of the third quarter of 2023. The estimated busiest day for Metra ridership occurred on November 4, 2016—the day of the Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series victory rally.

Metra is the descendant of numerous commuter rail services dating to the 1850s. The present system dates to 1974, when the Illinois General Assembly established the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) to consolidate all public transit operations in the Chicago area, including commuter rail. The RTA's creation was a result of the anticipated failure of commuter service operated and owned by various private railroad companies in the 1970s. In a 1983 reorganization, the RTA placed commuter rail under a newly formed Commuter Rail Division, which branded itself as Metra in 1985. Freight rail companies still operate four of Metra's routes under purchase-of-service agreements. Metra owns all rolling stock and is responsible for all stations along with the respective municipalities. Since its inception, Metra has directed more than $5 billion into the commuter rail system of the Chicago metropolitan area alongside the CTA. In January 2023, Metra rolled out a new real-time train tracking website to allow passengers greater visibility into their commute.

 

Metra System Map.

(Wikimedia maps | Map data © OpenStreetMap contributor)

 

History

Early Chicago commuter rail

Since its founding in the 19th century, Chicago has been a major Midwestern hub in the North American rail network. It has more trackage radiating in more directions than any other city in North America. Railroads set up their headquarters in the city and Chicago became a center for building freight cars, passenger cars and diesel locomotives. Early commuter services were run by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, Chicago and North Western, and Milwaukee Road.

By the 1930s, Chicago had the world's largest public transportation system, but commuter rail services started to decline. By the mid-1970s, the commuter lines faced an uncertain future. The Burlington Northern, Milwaukee Road, Chicago and North Western and Illinois Central had been losing money for several years, and were using trainsets with passenger cars dating as far back as the 1920s.

 

RTA EMD F40PH No. 123 crossing the Fox River in Elgin, Illinois, in 1981.

(Bruce Fingerhood from Springfield, Oregon, US, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Formation of the RTA

To provide stability to the commuter rail system, the Illinois General Assembly formed the Regional Transportation Authority in 1974. Its purpose was to fund and plan the Chicago region's public transportation. After initially using second-hand equipment, the RTA took delivery of the first new EMD F40PH locomotives in 1976. That F40PH fleet is still in service today. The companies that had long provided commuter rail in the Chicago area continued to operate their lines under contract to the RTA.

Less than a decade later the Regional Transportation Authority was already suffering from ongoing financial problems. Additionally, two rail providers, the Rock Island Line and the Milwaukee Road, went bankrupt, forcing the RTA to create the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation to operate their lines directly in 1982. In 1983 the Illinois Legislature reorganized the agency. That reorganization left the Regional Transportation Authority in charge of day-to-day operations of all bus, heavy rail and commuter rail services throughout the Chicago metropolitan area. It was also responsible for directing fare and service levels, setting up budgets, finding sources for capital investment and planning. A new Commuter Rail Division was created to handle commuter rail operations; along with CTA and Pace, it was one of RTA's three "service boards".

 

Metra EMD F40C No. 614 in Chicago.

(Russell Sekeet, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Metra branding

The board of the RTA Commuter Rail Division first met in 1984. In an effort to simplify the operation of commuter rail in the Chicago area, in July 1985 it adopted a unified brand for the entire system–Metra, or Metropolitan Rail. The newly reorganized Metra service helped to bring a single identity to the many infrastructure components serviced by the Regional Transportation Authority's commuter rail system. However, the system is still legally known as the Commuter Rail Division of the RTA.

Today, Metra's operating arm, the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation, operates seven Metra owned routes. Four other routes continue to be operated by Union Pacific (formerly Chicago & North Western) and BNSF (formerly Burlington Northern) under contract to Metra. Service throughout the network is provided under the Metra name (in keeping with Metra's goal of providing a single identity for all commuter rail in the region). Metra also owns all rolling stock, controls fares and staffing levels, and is responsible for most of the stations. However, the freight carriers who operate routes under contract use their own employees and control the right-of-way for those routes.

By the first quarter of 2024, the Union Pacific Railroad is expected to transfer operations of the three Union Pacific lines to Metra. Union Pacific will continue to own and maintain the right-of-way.

 

Growth and expansion

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Metra experienced record ridership and expanded its services. In 1996, Metra organized its first new line, the North Central Service, running from Union Station to Antioch. By 2006, it added new intermediate stops to that same route, extended the Union Pacific West Line from Geneva to Elburn and extended SouthWest Service from Orland Park to Manhattan. In 2012, it boasted 95.8% average on-time performance (measured only for a train's arrivals at its last station no more than six minutes late). It also posted its fourth highest volume in its history despite decreases in employment opportunities in downtown Chicago.

Metra continued to seek expansion options and to improve passenger service. Over the past three decades, Metra has invested more than $5 billion into its infrastructure. That investment has been used to purchase new rolling stock, build new stations, renovate tracks, modernize signal systems and upgrade support facilities. In addition to core improvements on the Union Pacific Northwest and Union Pacific West Lines, planning advanced on two new Metra routes, SouthEast Service and the Suburban Transit Access Route ("STAR" Line). In 2023, Metra announced plans to extend the Milwaukee District West Line to Rockford, Illinois, with intermediate stops at Huntley and Belvidere, by 2027.

 

Corruption

Metra also has been marred by allegations and investigations of corruption. In April 2002, board member Don Udstuen resigned from both Metra and his executive job with the Illinois State Medical Society, after admitting to taking bribes to steer Metra contracts to firms associated with former legislator Roger Stanley and pleading guilty to his part in Illinois's Operation Safe Road scandal.

In April 2010, Metra's executive director, Phil Pagano, faced investigation for taking an unauthorized $56,000 bonus and was later found to have improperly received $475,000 in vacation pay. The day that the agency's board was scheduled to discuss his fate, Pagano stepped in front of a moving Metra train in an apparent suicide. Around the time of Pagano's death, allegations also surfaced that a Metra employee demanded a $2,000 payoff from the studio that used Metra in the 2011 film Source Code. That employee was later relieved of his duties, and retired.

In June 2013, Metra CEO Alex Clifford abruptly resigned his position with no public comment. It was later reported that his exit had been demanded by the Metra board, which negotiated a $871,000 severance package including a non-disclosure agreement. Clifford's ouster was allegedly arranged because he rejected requests for patronage hiring and promotion, including a request to promote a longtime supporter of State Representative Michael Madigan. In the wake of this scandal, five board members resigned. In August 2013, the remaining board members unanimously elected Don Orseno as interim CEO. (The six-member board was operating with reduced membership and thus lacked the authority to elect a permanent CEO. Orseno and Alex Wiggins shared duties as co-executive directors.) Orseno's long railroad career, beginning with work to set up trains and check doors for the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad played favorably in the board's decision. By October 2013, local officials had restored Metra's board to 11 members. After reviewing four candidates, the re-constituted board formally appointed Orseno CEO of Metra in January 2014. In 2014, "a lengthy history of political patronage hiring at" Metra was reported, based on past files.

 

Underfunding

For a long time, Metra was not being funded enough to keep most equipment and rolling stock up to date. On average, the agency received approximately $700 million a year, but Metra claims to need about $2 billion a year, which only since 2020 has been accomplished. Because of this, Metra had to cut back on new rolling stock, instead resorting to their Rebuild Programs, in which they rebuild railcars and locomotives with newer state of the art utilities. Rebuilds cost only a fraction as much as buying new rolling stock, such as with their Amerail built cars. Rebuild programs can rebuild aging cars for approximately $650,000, whereas buying that same railcar new would be approximately $3 million.

 

Passengers near an inbound train at Geneva Station.

(User:JeremyA, CC BY-SA 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Operations

Stations
For a more comprehensive list, see: List of Metra stations.
Metra serves passengers through stations throughout the Chicago metropolitan area. Each station, unless a route or branch terminus, provides travel toward (inbound) and away from (outbound) downtown Chicago. Therefore, a passenger can connect between the city and a suburb or between two points in the suburbs using Metra service. Although Metra's commuter rail system is designed to connect points all over the Chicago metropolitan area, it does provide some intracity connections within Chicago.

Metra trains originate from one of four stations in downtown Chicago. Six lines originate at Union Station. The three Union Pacific lines originate at Ogilvie Transportation Center, formerly and still popularly called North Western Station. The Rock Island District originates at LaSalle Street Station. The Metra Electric District originates at Millennium Station, formerly and still often called Randolph Street Terminal. All four terminals are situated within walking distance of the Chicago Loop, so Metra passengers can easily transfer to a different Metra line upon their arrival downtown. Metra's urban-centric service remains popular with suburban commuters working downtown, reverse commuters, and those who visit Chicago for recreational activities and tourism.

Stations are found throughout Chicago, as well as in suburban Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties—an area largely coextensive with the inner ring of the Chicago metropolitan area. One station is located in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

 

Routes

Metra operates on 11 lines, most of which date from the mid-19th century. Four lines are operated under purchase-of-service agreements. The BNSF Line service is operated by BNSF Railway. The three lines out of the Ogilvie Transportation Center (formerly North Western Station) are operated by the Union Pacific Railroad. The other seven lines are operated by the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Rail Corporation (NIRC), Metra's operating subsidiary; five of these primarily run over track owned by other railroads, while two (the Electric and Rock Island districts) run entirely on Metra-owned track. Inbound trains on every line at all times run through to their Chicago terminus, however, many outbound trains do not run through to their respective lines' terminus (for example, most trains on the Union Pacific Northwest Line do not run through to Harvard; instead, terminating at Crystal Lake).

 

Metra Electric Highliners at 59th Street station.

(Peter Van den Bossche, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

 BNSF

The BNSF Line is Metra's busiest route. This 37.5-mile (60.4 km) route runs from Union Station to Aurora, Illinois. It had an average of 63,000 weekday passenger trips in 2018–2019.

 

Heritage Corridor

Metra's least patronized line, the Heritage Corridor is a 37.2-mile (59.9 km) route, running from Union Station to Joliet, Illinois during weekday rush hours only in the peak direction. It had an average of 2,600 weekday passenger trips in 2018–2019.

 

Metra Electric

The Metra Electric District is a 31.5-mile (50.7 km) electrically powered route from Millennium Station to University Park, with an additional 9.1 miles (14.6 km) of branch lines serving Blue Island (except Sundays and holidays) and South Chicago (93rd Street). The line had an average of 28,100 passenger weekday trips in 2018–2019.

 

Milwaukee District North

The Milwaukee District North Line is a 49.5-mile (79.7 km) route from Union Station to Fox Lake, Illinois. The line had an average of 22,100 weekday passenger trips in 2018–2019.

 

Milwaukee District West

The Milwaukee District West Line is a 39.8-mile (64.1 km) route from Union Station to Big Timber Road in Elgin, Illinois; on weekends and holidays, service terminates in downtown Elgin. The line had an average of 20,600 weekday passenger trips in 2018–2019. In 2023, Metra announced plans to extend the Milwaukee District West Line to Rockford, Illinois by 2027.

 

North Central Service

The North Central Service is a 52.8-mile (85.0 km) route from Union Station to Antioch, Illinois. It had an average of 5,600-weekday passenger trips in 2018–2019. It does not run at all on weekends and holidays.

 

Rock Island

The Rock Island District is a 40.0-mile (64.4 km) route (not inclusive of the 6.6-mile (10.6 km) Beverly Branch) to the southwest and southern suburbs. The line has 26 stations on two branches from LaSalle Street Station to Joliet. Some trains branch off onto a local track and terminate at Blue Island. It had an average of 26,900 weekday passenger trips in 2018–2019.

 

SouthWest Service

The SouthWest Service is a 40.8-mile (65.7 km) route from Union Station to Manhattan, Illinois, though most trains end at Orland Park 179th Street. It had an average of 9,600-weekday passenger trips in 2018–2019. It does not run at all on Sundays and holidays, and Saturday service is currently suspended.

 

Union Pacific North

The only route that travels outside Illinois, the Union Pacific North Line is a 51.6-mile (83.0 km) route from Ogilvie Transportation Center to Kenosha, Wisconsin, with most trains ending in Waukegan, Illinois. The line had an average of 34,600 weekday passenger trips in 2018–2019.

 

Union Pacific Northwest

The longest Metra route, the Union Pacific Northwest Line is a 63.2-mile (101.7 km) route from Ogilvie Transportation Center to Harvard, Illinois, with most trains ending in Crystal Lake. During weekdays except for holidays, service also includes a 7.59-mile (12.21 km) branch line from Pingree Road to McHenry. The line had an average of 40,100 weekday passenger trips in 2018–2019.

 

Union Pacific West

The Union Pacific West Line is a 43.6-mile (70.2 km) route running from Ogilvie Transportation Center to Elburn, Illinois. The line had an average of 27,900 weekday passenger trips in 2018–2019.

 

Various timetables (2018–19).

(Cards84664, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Proposed routes

Metra proposed two routes in the early 2000s, SouthEast Service, which would connect some portions of the southern suburbs with downtown Chicago, and the Suburban Transit Access Route, which would connect various suburbs with each other without going into downtown. As of 2020, only the SouthEast Service is still being considered.

In 2023, the Illinois Department of Transportation selected Metra as the agency to run restored rail service to Rockford.

 

Pre-Metra routes

Several commuter lines were discontinued before Metra was established. The Illinois Central West Line from present-day Millennium Station to Addison, Illinois, (closed 1931), Pennsylvania Railroad line to Valparaiso, Indiana, (closed 1935), New York Central line from LaSalle Street Station to Elkhart, Indiana, (closed 1964), and four Chicago & North Western lines to St. Charles, Aurora, Freeport, and Kenosha-Harvard (all municipalities in Illinois and Wisconsin, closed 1930–51). The Burlington Route had service between Aurora and West Chicago, Illinois (closed 1943). Chicago and Eastern Illinois operated commuter service on this line out of Dearborn Station to Dolton and Momence, respectively. The Chicago and Eastern Illinois commuter line to Momence, Illinois, ended in 1935, while the Chicago and Western Indiana service to Dolton, Illinois, was discontinued in 1964. Chicago Great Western had commuter service to DeKalb, Illinois (closed 1906). Santa Fe service to Joliet, Illinois (closed 1903). However, Metra runs service to Joliet, Illinois, on two routes: Heritage Corridor and Rock Island District.

 

Ridership

Ridership has been slowly declining on all but one line since 2014, as seen below. The figures post-2020 have been drastically affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Though monthly reports from 2022 show heavy improvement over 2021 figures, they are still dramatically below pre-pandemic levels.

For extensive Ridership information and figures click HERE.

 

Connections

Transportation in Chicago consists of a public transportation infrastructure allowing for intermodal connections to local, regional, national and international transportation services. Parking lots are available adjacent to most suburban Metra stations for passengers connecting with their train by car. Most parking lots are operated by the municipality they are located in. Fees and fines are also assessed by the local municipality; however, parking is usually free on weekends and most holidays. Mass transit CTA and suburban Pace buses connect with many Metra stations downtown and in the suburbs. Monthly pass holders are offered link-up options with these services. In addition, many intercity bus lines connect with passengers outside of Union Station.

The Chicago "L" also has transfers with Metra at some Chicago stations. Most 'L' lines traverse the Loop allowing nearby access to all downtown Metra terminals. There are also transfer points between Metra and the 'L' outside of the Loop, such as transfers from the Union Pacific Northwest Line to the Blue Line at Irving Park and Jefferson Park Transit Center; and from the Union Pacific West Line to the Green Line at Oak Park. 'L' trains announce downtown Metra connections on board when announcing the next 'L' stop.

Union Station doubles as both a Metra station and Amtrak's station in Chicago. In addition to Illinois Service and Hiawatha Service, Amtrak trains run nationwide including service to states spanning both coastlines. Passengers connecting from Ogilvie Transportation Center can access Union Station through its north platforms on the opposite side of Madison Street, with Millennium and LaSalle stations also within a short walking distance of Union Station as well. A number of suburban Metra stations are also shared with Amtrak as well.

The South Shore Line, an interurban line connecting Chicago with the Indiana suburbs and South Bend, originates at Millennium Station and operates along much of the Chicago portion of the Electric District line, as far south as 63rd Street. Per a longstanding noncompete agreement, eastbound South Shore trains only stop at shared Electric District stations to board passengers, and westbound South Shore trains only stop to discharge passengers.

 

Positive train control

In regards to the PTC mandate that passed Congress, Metra took steps to meet the deadline. Metra concluded that the December 31, 2015 mandate to have PTC running was an unreasonable requirement. This aligned with the stance taken by much of the railroad industry. This is due to a variety of factors including but not limited to: delays from the government, and the fundamental complexity of building a program from the ground up. Moreover, Metra estimates the cost of implementing the system on their 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of track in the Chicago region to be over $200 million. The fear is this unfunded mandate will divert scarce capital funds from other essential needs. This includes building and maintaining existing tracks, stations, signals, and other equipment that ensures a safe operating environment for all of Metra's passengers. However, Metra recognizes the need for PTC but needed a more reasonable timeline to implement such a program. This recognition is partially based on Metra's previous accident history. Two noteworthy events were a pair of accidents on the Rock Island District within a span of a couple of years. The first event was a derailment that occurred on October 12, 2003, when a train flew through a 10 mph crossing at 68 mph. A second very similar occurrence happened on September 17, 2005, but was more serious. The latter derailment killed two passengers and injured 117. Both of these incidents could have been prevented if PTC were in place. In both circumstances, PTC would have overridden the engineer and slowed the train down to the appropriate speed to prevent an accident from occurring.

Recently, Metra has taken significant steps in the process to fully implementing PTC. On April 22, 2015, the Metra board approved an $80 million contract to Parsons Transportation Group. Parsons was the sole bidder and speaks to the complexities of the project. They will be in charge of incorporating various devices from GPS, radio, to trackside antennas into one cohesive system. The group has some experience in this sector previously as Parsons worked with the southern California commuter rail agency Metrolink to install their system.

By the year 2020, Metra completed installation of the Positive Train Control. This came at a capital cost of $400 million and an annual operating cost of $20 million. Metra's PTC system works with the trains of 12 other railroad companies.

 

Entrance to a Metra bilevel rail car.

(Lucius Kwok, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Fare system and ticketing

Fare is determined by the distance traveled by a passenger. Each station along every route has generally been placed in a specific zone based on its distance from its respective downtown station. Multiple stations can be placed in the same zone even though they are on the same line.

Historically, the downtown terminals and stations in the vicinity of downtown were classified as zone 'A' and each additional zone represented an added 5 miles (8.0 km) from the downtown terminus. There were originally twelve fare zones: zones A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, and M (zone L would not have any stations). Zones K and M were merged into zone J on July 15, 2018, reducing the number of zones to ten.

On February 1, 2024, Metra reduced the number of fare zones from 10 to 4 and labeled each of the four zones by number instead of letter. This was proposed in an effort to simplify its fare structure. In addition, trips not entering or exiting the downtown area (zone 1) are subjected to a flat $3.75 fee.

 

Tickets

Several ticketing options exist for passengers. Riders may choose to purchase one-way tickets, day passes, day pass five-packs, weekend passes, or monthly passes.

A one-way ticket is used for one-way travel between two stations. One-way tickets can be purchased from ticket vending machines at stations, from the Ventra app, or on the train from a conductor. Conductors will charge an extra $5 if a ticket machine was available at the passenger's departing station.
A day pass provides unlimited rides on one calendar day for all stations in between two zones for twice the cost of a one-way ticket between those two zones. Day passes can be purchased in stations or in the Ventra app but are not for sale on board trains.
A day pass five-pack provides five day passes between two zones determined at the time of purchase. Day pass five-packs can be shared between passengers and expire 90 days after the date of purchase. Day pass five-packs can only be purchased with the Ventra app.
A Saturday or Sunday day pass provides unlimited travel between any and all zones for one passenger on a Saturday, Sunday, or certain holidays. Weekend day passes can be purchased in stations, on board trains (with no surcharge), or with the Ventra app. As of 2024, Saturday or Sunday weekend passes cost $7.
A weekend pass (Ventra app only) provides unlimited travel between any and all zones for one passenger on a Saturday and Sunday. In the past, weekend passes were extended to include holidays adjacent to the weekend, but this practice seems to have ended.[citation needed] Weekend passes are only available within the Ventra app. As of 2024, weekend passes cost $10.
A monthly pass provides unlimited travel between any two zones for one passenger on every day of a respective month. Monthly passes can be used on any line within the specified zones. Monthly passes can be purchased from ticket vending machines, or from the Ventra app. Starting in July 2022, PlusBus and Link-Up have been combined to form the new Regional Connect Pass. The Regional Connect Pass is available for $30 to monthly pass holders and allows for unlimited travel on CTA buses and the 'L', as well as Pace buses. The Regional Connect Pass is only available for monthly passes purchased in the Ventra app.

 

Reduced fare programs

Metra allows some travelers to purchase reduced fare tickets or even ride for free. These reduced fare and free ride programs are administered by Metra and the RTA. Some pre-college students, youth, senior citizens, members of the United States Armed Forces and persons with disabilities may qualify for these programs. Time-based and geographical restrictions apply to these programs and passengers must ensure they qualify before attempting to purchase special tickets or ride for free. Cook County launched The Fair Transit pilot on January 4, 2021, scheduled to initially last for three years. Under the pilot, all riders on the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines will pay Metra's reduced fare rates.

On the Union Pacific North Line, passengers headed to an event at Ravinia Park may ride to the event for free after showing their Ravinia Festival e-ticket to the conductor.

 

Metra F40PH locomotives at the Waukegan Station.

(Brian Moore, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Safety and security

Metra employees, the Metra Police Department and other public safety agencies are responsible for maintaining safety and security on its lines, aboard its trains and at stations all to various degrees. Although rail transport is one of the safest forms of land travel, compromises to Metra's safety and security can occur through pedestrian accidents, suicide attempts, vehicle collisions, derailment, terrorism and other incidents. Failing to maintain safety and security can result in equipment and infrastructure damage, extensive service disruptions, traumatic injuries and loss of life. Therefore, Metra and other agencies consider safety a top priority and dedicate a significant amount of resources to combat these dangers.

Starting in the early summer of 2013, Metra has announced plans to up police patrols on to the seven lines the agency operates: the Milwaukee Districts North and West, the North Central Service, the Heritage Corridor, South West Service, Rock Island, and Electric District. The police patrols will not be on the BNSF and Union Pacific train lines because those lines are operated by the railroads that own them and security falls to those companies. When asked why there were increasing patrols spokesman Michael Gillis said, "There is no particular reason, other than the fact that we want to be more proactive and more deliberately visible to our riders".

 

A Nippon Sharyo gallery car, built in the early 2000s.

(Mike Shadle, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Law enforcement

The Metra Police Department is a special law enforcement agency charged with providing police services to passengers, employees, equipment and property. The department has more than 100 police officers and is responsible for the safety of all routes and stations.  In an effort to help coordinate emergency preparedness and incident management, all Metra police officers are certified in the National Incident Management System. In addition, Metra police works with the Chicago Police Department as a member of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy. Thomas A. Cook was the only Metra police officer that has been killed in the line of duty thus far.

 

Rail safety

The focus on rail safety by Metra comes from many fronts beyond operations including emergency preparedness and public awareness. The setup of railway platforms, use of grade crossing signals and horn blasts make up a critical system used to communicate movements of commuter trains to pedestrians and vehicles. Outside of these operational components, Metra aggressively pursues safety through public awareness. Metra utilizes its own Operation Lifesaver program and uses it to help spread safety messages. Metra also holds events promoting rail safety at schools and organizes a safety poster contest awarding winners with prizes and features their posters on monthly passes and at stations.

Metra has been honored with several E. H. Harriman Awards for employee safety, most recently with a Bronze award in class B (line-haul railroads with between 4 and 15 million employee hours per year) for 2005. Previous Harriman Awards conferred to Metra include Gold awards for 2003 and 2004 and a Silver award for 2002.

Metra expects to implement positive train control on its entire system in 2019, four years after the federally mandated 2015 deadline.

 

Metra related fatalities: The bar graph above shows the number of non-employee, Metra related deaths (listed vertically).

This graph uses data from the previous decade and is organized by year (horizontally).

(DR04, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Incidents

There were 156 non-employee fatalities involving Metra equipment and Metra owned track between 2001 and 2010. On average 15 people were killed annually based on data from that decade. The highest number of fatalities in a year throughout that time occurred in 2002, with 23 deaths and in 2010, with 21 deaths. The majority of these fatalities occurred at grade crossings and on railway involving an impact with a train; only four deaths involved passengers aboard the train.

The worst commuter rail disaster in Illinois occurred before the formation of Regional Transportation Authority. The 1972 Chicago commuter rail crash consisted of a two train collision on the Metra Electric, then under the control of the Illinois Central. The collision resulted in 45 deaths and 332 injuries. Two decades later, Metra experienced its first rail disaster, the 1995 Fox River Grove bus–train collision. This accident involved a collision of a Union Pacific Northwest Line train and a school bus at a grade crossing resulting in 21 injuries and the deaths of seven high school students. In 2003, another incident involved a Rock Island District train derailing while switching from one track to another, injuring 45 passengers. In 2005, a train carrying 200 passengers along the same stretch of track derailed and then collided with a steel bridge resulting in two deaths and 117 injured. The cause of both accidents was ruled to be human error; the trains were going at speeds in excess of 68 miles per hour (109 km/h) when they should have been going 10 miles per hour (16 km/h).

On May 11, 2022, Metra train No. 1242 collided with a box truck at Clarendon Hills on the Metra BNSF Line, resulting in four injuries, and one death. The passenger who was killed, a 72-year-old woman from Downers Grove, was ejected from a window of the train during the collision. This incident, as of May 2022, is the second incident in Metra's history that resulted in a passenger fatality.

In addition to the loss of life, injuries, damage and service disruptions caused by accidents, Metra and other transportation agencies have been involved in multimillion-dollar lawsuits and settlements stemming from safety failures. These failures have also resulted in updated safety policies and adjustments of equipment and warning devices.

 

Metra 91, a F59PHI  at Union Station, March 2019. (Charles Fulton, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Rebuilt F40PH-3. (aqua scissors, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

F40PH-2. (Tony Alter from Newport News, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Rolling stock

Current locomotives

All of Metra's locomotives are diesel-electric locomotives. The bulk of its locomotive fleet consists of EMD F40PH locomotives. The Electric District uses electric multiple units.

Builder Model Road Numbers Year Built Routes Assigned Notes:
EMD SW1 2 1946 Switch service, work trains Originally owned by the Illinois Central Railroad, later sold to the Rock Island Railroad.
EMD SW1200 3 1954 Switch service, work trains Originally Milwaukee Road
EMD SW1500 4–6, 8–9 1967–68, 1971–72 Switch service, work trains Originally Southern Pacific
EMD GP23ECO 10–11 1969, 1966 Switch service, work trains Two GP23ECOs from Progress Rail. Both built as GP40s.
EMD F59PHI 73–93 1998 Milwaukee District, North Central Service, Heritage Corridor, Union Pacific Lines Locomotive 90 painted in Chicago & North Western heritage livery. Ex-Amtrak Cascades and Pacific Surfliner 450-470, entering service in October 2018.
EMD F59PH 94–99 1988 Milwaukee District, North Central Service, Heritage Corridor 97–99 ex-AMT. Brought into service in 2015.
EMD F40PH-3 100–149, 173–184, 215–217 1977, 1979–81, 1983, 1988–89 All Diesel Routes 100-149 rebuilt to -3 specifications between 2008 and 2012. 100 repainted into RTA wrap from September 14, 2017-mid 2018. 104 given a paint scheme honoring the City of Chicago, revealed on May 4, 2022. 174-184 rebuilt to -3 specifications between 2016 and 2017. 173 rebuilt to -3 specifications in 2018 to replace the wrecked F40PHM-2 205. 215-216 sold to Metra in 2009 by the TCRM and refurbished by Progress Rail before service. 215 suffered a major fire on December 3, 2018, and has not returned to service since.
EMD F40PH-2 150-172 1983 Union Pacific Lines Retirement in progress, to be replaced by SD70MACHs
EMD F40PHM-3 185–204, 206–214 1991–1992 BNSF, Rock Island, SouthWest Service Rebuilt to -3 specifications from F40PHM-2 between 2016 and 2020. When built as F40PHM-2s, they were the last F40PH series locomotives built by EMD. 194 was the first F40PHM-2 to be rebuilt and repainted. 210 suffered a fire on June 13, 2019. It returned to service in December, 2020. Locomotive 211 painted in Chicago Burlington & Quincy scheme.
MPI MP36PH-3C 401–427 2003–2004 Rock Island, Milwaukee District, North Central Service Converted from MP36PH-3S beginning in 2015 with 417. Locomotive 402 painted into State of Illinois livery. Locomotive 405 painted into Milwaukee Road Heritage scheme, with Richard F. Oppenheim naming. Locomotive 425 painted into Rock Island Heritage scheme, with Don Orseno naming.
EMD SD70MACH 500-514 1992–2004 (as originally built) Milwaukee District, North Central Service Used SD70MAC locomotives converted for Metra service. 15 on order, with options for 27 more, replacing F40PH-2 (150-172) and some F40PH-3 (100–149 and 215-216, except locomotive 104's City of Chicago paint scheme). The first locomotive was delivered in October 2022 and painted in an RTA heritage scheme. New locomotives will be delivered approximately once per month throughout 2022 and 2023. The first locomotives entered service in late 2023.
EMD F40C 611, 614 1974 Milwaukee District 611 and 614 were retired in 2003 and 2004. In January 2005, they were brought back into service while several then-new MP36PH-3S locomotives were out of service with software issues. Due to the F40PH rebuild program, they were returned to service in April 2009 and remained in service until mid-2012. 611 and 614 remain in the Western Avenue yard.

F40PHM-3. (Stephenrees, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

MP36PH-3C. (Aquascissors, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

EMD F40C. (vxla from Chicago, US, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Retired locomotives

Bulider Model Road Numbers Year Built Routes Assigned Notes
EMD F7 305, 308 1949 All Diesel Routes Donated to the Illinois Railway Museum. 305 has been restored as Chicago and North Western 411, while 308 is still painted in Metra colors.
EMD E8 507–510, 512–522 1950–53 CNW Routes 508, 516, and 518 sold to IPH. 515 is now owned by the Illinois Railway Museum as of December 2021. 522 is owned by LWV and was renumbered 101. 519 is privately owned, numbered MREX 97. Currently located at the Arizona Railway Museum in Chandler, Arizona.
EMD E9 511 1955 CNW Routes Owned by UP and cosmetically restored to original number of UP 949.
EMD F40C 600–610, 612–613 1974 Milwaukee District All scrapped.
EMD SW1500 7 1968 Switch service, work trains Sold to NRE in Dixmoor, Illinois in 2015 due to an internal engine failure, and was scrapped due to site's closure in 2020.
EMD SW1 1 1938 Switch service, work trains Originally owned by the Illinois Central Railroad, later sold to the Rock Island Railroad. #1 was modified with MU Car couplers and was the oldest operating locomotive in the U.S. that is not preserved. It was used to transfer cars from Metra Electric at Blue Island to the Blue Island wheelhouse to maintain a proper wheel profile on Metra Electric MU cars. Retired & auctioned off in June 2021 due to an internal engine failure.
EMD F40PHM-2 205 1992 BNSF, RI, Southwest Service Number 205 was wrecked in a CSX Derailment on March 8, 2018, while en route for refurbishment. It was scrapped on site.
EMD F40PH-2 150, 152-153, 155, 160, 168–172 1983 Union Pacific Lines Stored in Antioch Coach Yard awaiting final deposition. All being scrapped, used for parts.

Coaches

Numnbers Type Heritage Year Built Quantity Builder
700–787 790–795 Coach Coach/Cab Burlington Route 1950–65 1965 94 Budd Operating, rebuilt in 1973 700–740, 752, 781, 790–795 sold to MItrain in Michigan, later acquired by WeGo Star in Tennessee
796–815 816–8207100–7121 Coach/Cab CoachCoach Burlington Northern 1973 19731977–78 47 Budd Operating
6001–6194 Coach Metra 2002–05 194 Nippon Sharyo Operating
7200-7382 Coach Milwaukee Road 1961–80 183 Budd Operating
7400–7497 Coach Metra 1996–98 98 Amerail Operating, rebuilt in 2012
8200–8238 Coach/Cab Milwaukee Road 1961–74 39 Budd Operating
8239–8275 Coach/Cab RTA 1978–80 37 Budd Operating–Some have been converted to coaches.
8400–8478 Coach/Cab Metra 1994–98 79 Morrison-Knudsen/Amerail Operating–Mainly assigned to the UP lines.
8501–8608 Coach/Cab Metra 2002–05 108 Nippon Sharyo Operating
TBD Coach/Cab Metra TBD TBD Alstom On order. Alstom Coradia bilevel coaches. Initial order includes 200 cars, with an option for 300 more.
7700–7866 Coach Chicago and North Western 1960–70 167 Pullman Operating–Five have been purchased back due to money problems.
7600–7613 Coach Chicago and North Western 1955 14 St. Louis Retired. Two preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum
7650–7681 Coach Chicago and North Western 1956 32 Pullman Retired. One preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum
7867–7871 Coach Rock Island 1970 5 Pullman 7868 now a bike car. Rest retired
7880 Coach (former Parlor) Chicago and North Western 1958 1 Pullman Retired
7881–7885 Coach Rock Island 1970 5 Pullman Retired
7900–7901 Club Car Chicago and North Western 1955 2 St. Louis Retired
8700–8763 Coach/Cab Chicago and North Western 1960–68 64 Pullman Retired–One preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum. 8749 is a bicycle car.

Private club coaches

Numbers Type Heritage Year Built Builder Disposition
553 Private railroad car Chicago and North Western 1949 ACF In storage
555 Private railroad car Chicago and North Western 1949 ACF Retired

Electric multiple units

Metra's electric units, except for the future battery electric multiple units, are also known as Highliners.

Numbers Model Type Heritage Year Built Builder Status
1201–1226 Highliner MU Coach Metra 2005 Nippon Sharyo Operating
1227–1238 Highliner II MU Coach Metra 2012 Sumitomo Group Operating
1239–1279 Highliner II MU Coach Metra 2013 Sumitomo Group Operating
1280–1386 Highliner II MU Coach Metra 2014–2016 Sumitomo Group Operating
1501–1630 Highliner MU Coach Illinois Central 1971–1972 St. Louis Car Company Retired
1631–1666 Highliner MU Coach Illinois Central 1978–1979 Bombardier Retired
TBD FLIRT Akku Battery electric multiple unit Metra 2024- Stadler On order. 16 trainsets

Overview

Owner: Regional Transportation Authority (RTA)
Locale: Chicago metropolitan area, United States
Transit type: Commuter rail
Number of lines: 11
Number of stations: 241 year-round, 1 seasonal, 2 under construction
Daily ridership: 154,200 (weekdays, Q3 2023)
Annual ridership: 23,726,400 (2022)
Chief executive: James M. Derwinski
Headquarters: 547 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60661
Website: metra.com
Operation
Began operation: 1984
Operators: Metra, Union Pacific Railroad, BNSF Railway
Reporting marks: METX
Technical
System length: 487.5 miles (784.6 km)
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge