Metra tries not to kill its customers.
It really does. Say what you will about our commuter rail service: its jaw-dropping top-level mismanagement, creaky equipment and seasonal surprise at finding itself once again in a cold climate. But when it comes to sparing the hectic, harried, charmless lives of the commuters who travel its length, Metra is outstanding.
If a train is in the station, say going north, and another is going south, the northbound train will linger in the station, deliberately, to the puzzlement of passengers, until the southbound train arrives in the station.
Why? Because the engineers know, if they were to pull out of the station when another train was about to arrive, passengers who disembarked would surge across the tracks and be killed by the incoming train.
Considerate of Metra to spare them, I’ve always felt, even though they are not helping me, personally, since I am the one person, alone it seems, among the 150,000 who take Metra every day, who does not wait between the lowered gate and the train, in a runner’s crouch, eyes fixed on the moving last train, timing my lunge forward so that I am out of the blocks when the train has not quite passed, accelerating as the stainless steel wall clears the space in front of me.
Usually, invariably they’re fine. There is no incoming train, no Amtrak express thundering by from the other direction. In the 14 years I have been doing this, only a few times do the people surging ahead see another train coming, and half go forward, and half go back, some doing an uncertain little dance on the tracks before choosing.