Metra’s on-time performance improves after brutal winter

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With brutal winter weather-related problems behind it, Metra’s on-time performance improved year-over-year for the first time in six months in April.

Metra enjoyed 96.8 percent on-time performance in April, up from 95.7 percent a year earlier, according to a report given to Metra board members at their meeting Friday.

October was the last reported year-over-year improvement, according to spokesman Michael Gillis.

Weekday peak on-time performance improved to 97 percent from 95.5 percent.

But board members were told Metra faces a major challenge in its goal of boosting its spare car ratio to help it better deal with weather-related damage that caused commuters to be crammed into fewer cars in the winter, and that’s where to store the spares.

“Within the city limits, there’s not many options out there,” Jim Derwinski, acting chief mechanical officer told the board. “I’m not saying it’s impossible but … just to lay track … it would mean reconfiguring and possibly land purchases.”

Metra currently has 25 coaches for spare units, he said, noting that leaves it short of its desired goal of 54 spare coach units. Meanwhile, only four or five train yards can handle extra equipment, he said.

“We do not have the capacity to do much more than what we are doing today,” director Norman Carlson said. “That’s the bottom line. So, when we have these suggestions of additional trains, extensions, or running trains further…. we have to recognize that there is going to have to be significant investment made to achieve those goals from whoever is suggesting those goals.”

Finding extra train cars has been a challenge. Many sister agencies are expanding and are reluctant to give up any older stock, Derwinski said.

The board was informed that requests went out Friday for vendors to install Wi-Fi on Metra trains. It’s the second time such a request was made.  The last effort was unsuccessful, which prompted Metra to hire a consultant to get an estimate on how much it would cost Metra to foot the bill for the upfront costs of the project. The estimate came in at $71 million, deemed too steep, prompting the latest requests.

The board approved a plan to shift $44.5 million in funding from the North Line Bridges capital project to the Union Pacific West Line project.

The North Line Bridges project is rebuilding 100-year-old bridges that carry the Union Pacific North Line over 22 streets on the north side of Chicago.

The UP West Line project is adding a third track at two locations on the line.

“The UP West Line work is ready to go. It’s closer to us starting the work, so we sort of reprioritized our money so we could get going on this project,” Gillis said.

The $44.5 million for the North Line Bridges project isn’t needed until 2017, he said, adding, “What we’re counting on is that we will be able to make up that with funds that come in between now and 2017.”

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