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Local News

Commuters make their case to Metra against ‘dramatic’ service cuts

Homewood resident Gail Logan addressed Metra officials with concerns about proposed schedule changes. (Tom Houlihan/H-F Chronicle) 

One after another, Metra commuters Thursday forcefully asserted that proposed schedule changes between Flossmoor and 59th Street in Chicago represent a serious mistake that will have long-lasting consequences for the community.

Homewood resident Gail Logan addressed Metra officials with concerns about proposed schedule changes. (Tom Houlihan/H-F Chronicle) 

Numerous H-F area residents work or go to school at the University of Chicago and, for years, have gotten on and off the train at 59th Street. Under the proposed changes, there are no direct trains between Flossmoor and 59th Street and service between the village and the other Hyde Park station has been substantially cut.

During the evening rush hour, for example, there are only three trains departing for Flossmoor from the 55th-57th Street station between 4:45 p.m. and 6:25 p.m. An additional four southbound trains stop at that station during the same time period, but end in Homewood. (Two of those connect to southbound trains to Flossmoor a few minutes later.)  

With the proposed changes, it will still be possible to travel to and fro between Flossmoor and 59th Street, but only with transfers at Homewood and the 115th Street-Kensington stations.

Metra administrators (from left) James Derwinski, Trey Blaise and Dan Niobonski fielded concerns from commuters at a special meeting Thursday at Flossmoor village hall. (Tom Houlihan/H-F Chronicle)

Local commuters, many of whom had just gotten off the train, filled the Flossmoor village hall boardroom after Metra asked for a meeting in response to a groundswell of complaints about the schedule changes. Flossmoor officials met with their Metra counterparts earlier in the week to explain how the new schedule will result in a hardship for commuters.

Dan Niobonski, a Metra surface design manager, said that the proposed changes are still not definite and that the transit agency will take commuter concerns into account before reaching a final decision. He told audience members that Metra needs to implement a computer-driven braking system – positive train control (PTC) – and that operating the new system requires more turnaround time at Millennium Station. To make up for that time, Metra needs to reduce stops on the Electric Line, which has more trains than any other line in its transportation network.

Under a federal mandate, PTC must be operational by the end of 2020, Niobonski said.

According to the proposed changes, Flossmoor trains will no longer stop at Kensington and the Homewood Metra station will be designated as a transfer site. Trey Blaise, a Metra schedule design analyst, said Homewood was chosen for that status because it is at the center of the Electric Line service area and has crossover tracks. Homewood will be a starting point for trains to the north while inbound Flossmoor trains will begin in University Park.

Flossmoor resident Dan Engel, who works at the U of C, said Metra was counting how many commuters get on and off trains, but not considering the patterns of where they are going. By dramatically cutting service, he said, Metra is taking time away from commuters as they spend more time on train platforms.

“I’m down to one train, at 5:30,” Engel said. “Other than that, I’ll be out there (waiting for a train) for a long time.”

Ryan Burke-Stevenson, a seventh grader who attends the U of C Lab School with his brother, said he currently takes the 7:15 a.m. train to 59th Street.

“It takes 26 minutes,” he said. “When we get off the train, there is campus security all the way to my school’s entrance. I feel safe riding the train, and like how quick it is. I always get a seat. There are many of us who take that train to school, and teachers too.”

To get to 59th Street under the new schedule, Burke-Stevenson said he’d have to take the 6:51 a.m. train to Homewood and transfer, then get off at Kensington for another transfer. He’d arrive at 59th Street at 7:45 a.m., so the new trip would take 44 minutes. Burke-Stevenson said he and his family also have security concerns resulting from the new schedule. 

Deborah Burnet, a U of C physician, said she recruits doctors to work at the university medical system and “I’ve recruited people to live in Flossmoor.”

Cutting train service between the university and Flossmoor could affect whether doctors want to come to the U of C and live in the South Suburbs, she said.

With 18,000 employees, the University of Chicago is the biggest single employer in Chicago’s Southland, Burnet said.

Jeremy Marks, who is also a U of C doctor, seconded her remarks.

“It’s because of that train that we moved to Flossmoor,” he said. He called Flossmoor “the crown jewel” along the Electric Line.

In recent weeks, however, he has heard from colleagues that they won’t be able to get to work with the new schedule.

“Much of my work these days is courting faculty to come to the U of C,” he said, adding that changing the transportation patterns could have negative affects for years to come.

“You’ve got to consider what could be happening five years, 10 years from now,” Marks said.

Other commuters said the cost of a Metra monthly ticket into the city from Homewood and Flossmoor  —  currently about $200  —  won’t be worth it with the service cuts.

Gail Logan, a Homewood resident, said Metra has to consider both Homewood and Flossmoor while developing new schedules.

Logan also works at the U of C and said she might stop being a Metra commuter because of the reduction in service.

On the new evening rush hour schedule, Logan said, the 6:25 p.m. train “is my only train.”

“If that is going to happen, I won’t take Metra and will drive instead,” she said.

Other Metra administrators who were on hand for Thursday’s meeting were CEO James Derwinski, Chief of Staff Janice Thomas, Chief Transportation Officer Martin Ryan and Legislative Affairs/Community Relations Administrator Noe Gallardo.

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