Metra to close some stations, ban food and drink during NATO

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A man pulls his luggage up the ramp to a waiting Metra Electric train in Blue Island, Illinois, Friday, May 11, 2012. The station will be closed during the NATO Summit. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

Walking into a Metra station during NATO weekend might be a bit like walking into Soldier Field. No beverages, no backpacks and no weapons.

That means no morning coffee during your Monday commute on May 21, patdowns and other security measures the U.S. Secret Service doesn’t want to disclose.

Metra announced its plans Friday to step up security for the NATO Summit – including closing 26 stations on the Electric Line May 21 to focus security on stations with higher ridership.

At the Millennium Station downtown Friday afternoon, riders reacted to the news their commute to work on May 21 will be fouled up.

Renee Jackson, 50, of South Shore, learned her Electric Line station will be closed that day.

“I can catch a bus, but still my bus goes downtown on Lake Shore Drive (which will be closed from 39th to Balbo), so its still going to be affected and I just started my job so I can’t take a vacation day,” Jackson said.

“Its an inconvenience but what can you do?” she said.

Cesar Mark, 42, rides the Electric Line to and from Hyde Park every day. His station will be closed, too.

“I get on at 47th so that’s going to affect my route. I have to get to another station in Hyde park. That’s going to be my only hurdle.

“I don’t mind the extra security at all. I think it’s what they have to do to keep us safe.”

Metra said 90 percent of its trips won’t be affected: Regular service will be offered on 10 of 11 lines – all but the Electric Line, which runs under McCormick Place, the site of the summit.

The Blue Island branch of the Electric Line will be shut down entirely May 21.

That news didn’t make for happy riders at the Blue Island station Friday afternoon, including Nora McGann of Hyde Park, who visits a Blue Island doctor.

“I have a doctor’s appointment I won’t be able to go to,” McGann said. “I don’t drive so (taking the Electric Line) is the only way there.

“It’s going to mess up lives.”

Blue Island resident Ann James agreed.

“It’s going to be a lot of confusion around here.”

Tom Gurskis, of Blue Island said “it’s imposing on civil rights.

“It’s like the rich going, ‘You’re imposing on our meeting.’ We’re like leftovers. It’s wrong. It’s like they have that NATO Summit and we have to revolve around them.”

In addition to the Blue Island branch closing, no inbound Electric Line trains at all will run between noon and 6 p.m. May 21. The NATO Summit ends at noon, but the transit agency wanted to allow for extra time should it not end exactly on time. Outbound service won’t be affected.

That leaves a large portion of the city’s South Side and south suburbs affected, but Metra says riders have alternate routes, such as taking the CTA or other forms of transportation to get to open stations. Blue Island line riders affected can take the Rock Island line, Metra said.

“There is capacity on the Rock Island District for riders who choose to go there. That’s a good alternative for some people. It’s not a good alternative for others,” Metra Deputy Director George Hardwidge said.

The plan was announced just nine days before the summit, but the agency says it’s posting fliers at all stations and providing information on its website,, for affected riders.

“Certainly we understand the inconvenience that NATO creates for the public and Metra riders. We’ve worked with the Secret Service and local police departments to develop a plan focused on safety, with minimal impact to our riders,” Metra CEO Alex Clifford said.

Amtrak and the South Shore Line also run trains under McCormick Place. Amtrak plans no cancellations during the summit. The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates the South Shore from Chicago to South Bend, Ind., said Friday no trains will be canceled or rerouted, though riders should expect “significant security-related delays” during the summit.

Five Metra Electric stations – 47th Street, 27th Street, McCormick Place, 18th Street and Museum Campus/11th Street – will be closed from May 19 to 21.

Twenty one other stations will be closed on May 21 only: 111th Street, 107th Street, 103rd Street, 95th Street, 91st Street, 87th Street, 83rd Street, 79th Street, 75th Street, 63rd Street, Blue Island, Burr Oak, Ashland, Racine, West Pullman, Stewart Ridge, State Street, 87th Street, Cheltenham, Windsor Park and Bryn Mawr.

“We have a limited amount of manpower with which to accomplish the security screening that must occur through this event. And on Monday we have far more riders than we do on Saturdays and Sundays so what we did is we picked stations that had ridership less than 200 trips per day, and those are the ones that will be closed,” Clifford said.

Metra Electric riders are being warned they should arrive at least 15 minutes early and should expect delays.

Riders on all Metra lines will be screened for banned items such as pocket knives, pepper spray, food and liquids. Bags larger than 15 inches square and 4 inches deep will be banned, as are bikes.

Riders should expect more police officers and police dogs “and we won’t specify beyond that,” Metra spokesman Robert Carlton said.

Metra said its NATO plans could change, and urged riders to go to its website for the latest information. Metra also will send email alerts to all riders who have signed up to receive them by creating a “My Metra” account on the website.

Metra Electric passengers should also note that some station entrances may be closed. On all three days, the South Water Street entrance to the Millennium Station will be closed.

The Metra Electric main line serves about 14,000 riders on weekdays, 2,500 riders on Saturdays and about 1,800 riders on Sundays. The South Chicago branch carries about 2,800 riders on weekdays, 1,100 riders on Saturdays and 450 riders on Sundays. The Blue Island branch carries about 1,300 riders on weekdays, 325 riders on Saturdays.

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