Chicago-area Metra rail service suffers decreased ridership

Feb. 21, 2019

Fare hikes and stable gas prices are being pointed to as the culprit

In the Chicago metropolitan area, Metra Rail is the system that gets commuting workers in and out of the city. Its service runs nearly 50 miles outside the city proper, but a recent disclosure by Metra seems to indicate that some people are turning away from the ease of a train ride and are more willing to face that notorious Windy City traffic instead.

At a board meeting this week, Metra officials revealed that ridership has dropped 9% since 2014, a period during which fare have been increased four different times. The commuter railroad said its ridership dropped from 83.4 million trips in 2014 to 76.1 million passenger trips in 2018, which was about the same number as in 2005 and was down from a high of 86.8 million in 2008.

While the agency voted to not raise fares again in 2019, the board did approve the purchase of a number of new pieces of equipment, including 15 new locomotives, in an effort to improve serviceability and dependability, which has come into question in the last year or so.

The Metra Electric District, which runs between downtown and the South Side and south suburbs, saw the biggest drop in business, with rides down 18.1% over five years, followed by the Milwaukee District West Line from Elgin, which saw an 11.5% drop.

In a bid to upgrade the railroad’s fleet and reduce breakdowns, the Metra board at the same meeting approved spending $71 million on 15 remanufactured locomotives. Metra is buying them from Progress Rail Locomotives in La Grange, a Caterpillar company, and has the option to buy up to 27 additional vehicles, if the funding is available.

“These like-new locomotives will be replacing some of the oldest locomotives in our fleet, and we would expect to see a significant increase in reliability,” said Metra CEO Jim Derwinski, in a statement. Progress Rail is taking existing freight locomotives and upgrading them for passenger use. About 70% of Metra’s current fleet of 147 locomotives is rated in marginal or poor condition, and the average age is 31 years.

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