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Metra meeting offers explanation on possible schedule changes

Officials from Metra offered feedback Tuesday on proposed changes to the Electric Line schedule during a public forum at Flossmoor Village Hall.

In May, Metra announced proposed service changes “to better reflect ridership demands and anticipated development in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.” The Electric Line runs between University Park and the Van Buren Street station in Chicago, through the stations in both Homewood and Flossmoor.
Saturday trains would run a similar schedule to the current one, said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis. Revisions would cut Saturday service from 23 trains to 20 trains, eliminating several early morning trains but spacing trains to better accommodate when residents tend to ride, he said.

Under the new plan, the earliest Saturday morning train from Homewood to Chicago will leave at 5:14 a.m. Trains will continue every hour leaving at 14 minutes past the hour. The last train from Homewood to Chicago will board just after midnight.
Saturday trains from Chicago to Homewood will start arriving at 6:22 a.m., with most trains arriving at 22 minutes past the hour throughout the day. The last train will arrive in Homewood from Chicago at 1:47 a.m.

Metra also is renumbering trains. The Saturday trains will be identified by an 800 prefix.

There would still be 13 morning rush-hour trains from Homewood to Chicago under the new plan, with a 6:28 a.m. train added and a 6:50 a.m. train eliminated. 

The aim of the proposed schedule revisions is to improve service and attract more customers without increasing Metra’s costs. 
Nearly 14 percent fewer riders use the Electric Line now than six years ago, Metra said in a press release. Those 1.4 million passenger trips accounts for 61 percent of the total decline in ridership system-wide since 2011.
One of Metra’s aims for Tuesday’s meeting was to combat misinformation, Manager of Service Design Jeff Brantz said.
“You know word of mouth, once you go around the room, by the time it gets back to the person it’s a completely different story. That’s the kind of thing that’s happening right now,” he said. “Once we get people in front of the schedule, show them what we’re trying to do here, they understand ‘Oh, I’m not really impacted.’ 
“The trains that we’re talking about combining or eliminating, they don’t ride those trains because nobody rides those trains.”
The new proposal includes the elimination of some morning trains on the Blue Island and South Shore branches, some of which Brantz said averaged as few as two riders. 
“It’s that drastic amount of service that we had to tailor to what we actually use,” Brantz said.
Brantz said the Electric Line currently runs 124 trains on Saturdays while the busier BNSF line to Aurora runs only 28. 
“We’re looking at all service for 11 lines,” Brantz said. “We started with this one because it has the most amount of trains and when you put it against the amount of people that ride, it has less people per train on average than any of our lines.” 
Another concern was to shift more service to midday. 
As Metra reviewed its schedule, it discovered a midday train through Hyde Park with another following four minutes later. The next train didn’t come for 50 minutes. 
“If we had a South Chicago train every hour and kept that hourly service and we kept the mainline train every hour of service and the Blue Island every two hours, and took the Pullman area that used to be two hours and make it one hour (between trains), we could actually add 20-minute service to Hyde Park,” Brantz said. “It wasn’t even an add, it was just a reconfiguration.” 
The proposed changes likely wouldn’t be the last time Metra revisits its schedule.
With the coming Obama Presidential Library, the Pullman National Monument and a 12,000-home development coming to the former US Steel property on Chicago’s South Side, Brantz said Metra is going to monitor growth and adjust accordingly. 
“Any big development like that, we’d have to revisit this,” Brantz said. “We’re trying to start to do this more often. We’ve always had the Metra schedule that just didn’t change. 
“We need to start looking at it and revamping it, somewhat like the CTA-style where we review it every so often and make sure that what you have there makes sense,” Brantz said.
The plan isn’t finalized and Brantz said Metra has already taken some useful feedback from riders that could affect the changes. There’s no official timetable for when the changes would happen, Brantz said. Metra usually gives riders 60- to 90-day notice of schedule adjustments. 
“We’re trying to be fiscally responsible with what we have and be more efficient with what we have,” Brantz said. 
Riders unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting can offer feedback to Metra by emailing [email protected]

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