Metra Proposes Cuts To Southwest Service Line

Congressman Dan Lipinski and 22 elected officials send letter to Metra opposing cuts in weekday and weekend trains to southwest suburbs.

Commuters who get off work at 5 p.m. may have to wait up to two hours to catch a Metra train home out of downtown Chicago if a plan to cut weekday and weekend service to the southwest suburbs goes through.

Some weekday trains on the Southwest Service Line are on the chopping block and weekend service may be eliminated altogether if a proposed plan by Metra to plug a $100 million budget hole goes through.

Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3) and 22 elected officials along the Southwest Service line sent a pointed letter to Metra expressing their opposition to reduce service, saying that such service cuts would “disenfranchise” commuters in the southwest suburbs.

READ the letter from elected officials.

Elected officials, including suburban mayors and Chicago aldermen from the city’s southwest side, signed the letter at the congressman’s request that was sent to Metra’s board of directors before their regular board meeting this Friday at 9 a.m. at Metra’s headquarters at 527 W. Jackson St.

Metra’s board of directors rejected a plan in July to implement unprecedented service cuts across all of Metra’s service lines that would have only saved 8 percent of its budget shortfall.

Now the transit provider is floating a plan before its directors that eliminates weekend service on three lines, including the Southwest Service line.

The plan also calls to eliminate some weekday service between 179th Street and Manhattan on two trains. In total, Southwest Service riders would lose all six Saturday trains plus some weekday trains while eight other lines would experience no service cuts.

Lipinski said that Southwest Service riders would be unfairly targeted and that the proposed service cuts would only save $800,000, about a half-percent of what Metra needs to plug its budget deficit.

“Given the importance of the Southwest Service to communities in southwest Cook County and northeast Will County, I’m going to continue working to preserve weekend and weekday service,” Lipinski said in a press release. “This letter represents a strong show of support for the Southwest Service line, and I hope Metra listens carefully.”

Nathaniel Zimmer, the congressman’s spokesman, called the savings to Metra’s annual $630 million operating budget “negligible.” Metra has offered very little detail or justification to Lipinski’s office of why it’s cutting southwest service.

“That is certainly one of the problems,” Zimmer said.

Calls to Metra on Wednesday went unanswered. Metra has stated that if it doesn’t implement service cuts, fares may increased up to 20 percent.

Lipinski is encouraging Metra to hold public hearings and solicit input from Southwest Service riders before it makes any final decisions, which may take effect in 2012.

Hometown Mayor Kevin Casey said he’s tired of the South Side always getting the short end of the stick when it comes to services.

“There aren’t any jobs in the Southland anymore. If you need a job it’s downtown and a lot of people here take Metra,” Casey said. “Metra should look at trimming its own budget like the rest of us. We cut out every little bit of fat that we could. We didn’t cut service or tax anybody, and we gave our employees raises.”

For years, southwest suburban mayors fought to increase weekend trains on the Southwest Service, Mayor Gerald Bennett of Palos Hills said.

“We were one of the last lines for them to improve the number of trains,” Bennett said. “Now we’re the first to be cut out.”

Bennett said overall ridership on Metra’s Southwest Service line has increased since more trains were added.

“We asked Metra to hold off and to at least take a look at distributing cuts across the board instead of piling it up on the Southwest line,” the Palos Hills mayor said.

Mayor Dave Heilmann of Oak Lawn, a regular Southwest Service Line rider, said the lack of train service until recent years was just another example of how the south suburbs have been neglected.

“I don’t want to be one of those government officials that says ‘cut everything except me,’” Heilmann said, “but the treatment of the south suburbs hasn’t been equitable in the amount of services we receive. We pay the same [fares] as everyone else.”

Oak Lawn commuter Mark McKibbin said losing weekday train service on the Southwest Service line would have a huge impact on his commute to and from downtown Chicago.

“I’m always running to catch the 5:40 p.m. [weekday] train out of Chicago,” McKibbin said. “I take the 6:15 p.m. train quite a bit. It that’s gone there’s not much you can do. If [Metra] eliminates the 6:15 on this line, I’d gladly go to Beverly and pay the $2 to park rather than give it to Oak Lawn.”

Joe Skibinski September 15, 2011 at 01:07 PM
The economic impact of these cuts to the community will far outweigh the savings they generate. These trains are critical to growth and even just the stability of our communities. Service cuts will lead to reduced ridership that then prompts further service cuts until we find ourselves back to where we were thirty years ago at two trains per day.
CJM September 15, 2011 at 01:22 PM
Who is it that is making these service cut decisions? This is a vital link for the SW suburbs, which have traditionally been the step-child of the whole Chicago region. There is an embarrassment of ot transportation riches on the North Side and North Shore with excellent and frequent service to all points north, northwest, and west. Many of these lines run parallel to the CTA trains. if cuts are needed, surely they can trim some fat from those areas. If Metra cuts as planned, this will be a devastating blow to Oak Lawn and the whole SW area. Shame on you, Metra.
Jim Smith September 15, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Of course we should raise taxes rather than EVER cut ANY entitlement! [/sarc] This issue highlights the problem with entitlements (which is what rail subsidies are). Once they start, they are close to impossible to stop.
Dee Emm September 15, 2011 at 03:52 PM
But hey, lets' spend $38M of taxpayer money to build luxury apartments for perople who communte downtown via the train at their doorstep.
OakLawnGuy September 15, 2011 at 05:26 PM
The Metra regime under the late Phil Pagano treated the line as a drawer of petty cash for years, and it's coming back to bite them - but, most of all, the commuters.
Jim Smith September 15, 2011 at 06:42 PM
How about we stop all that sort of entitlement stuff? About 8 years ago, Park Ridge created a TIF district and built expensive condos near their downtown train station. The condos were SUPPOSED to be sold to people who would live in them, but a LOT of them went to speculators who flipped them for a lot more money. Taxpayers lose again.
Jim Smith September 15, 2011 at 06:43 PM
That's what happens with government bureaucracies. People hear about failures in business and get upset but such shenanigans are so commonplace in the Chicago area that people just accept them.
Megan James September 15, 2011 at 06:44 PM
Perhaps OP's Trustee, Brad O'Halloran, who is also on the Metra Board making these decisions, can help Metra see what a horrible mistake it is to cut any of the Southwest Service at all. As a regular Metra rider, I filled out the survey online and told them I would agree to a low increase in fares to keep the train schedule as is. However, if they still needed to make cuts, both the Heritage Cooridor and Southwest Service lines should not be touched. All of the other Metra lines have numerously more trains that run almost every 15 minutes during the rush hours, and have way more trains on the weekends then we have. So they have plenty of room to make cuts on those lines to save money without having to touch a single train on the Heritage Cooridor and Southwest Service's already reduced schedules. You can compare all the other schedules on line at: www.metrarail.com
Megan James September 15, 2011 at 06:56 PM
Dee Emm The Village of Orland’s budgets has no impact on the Metra schedule or fare prices. Like the Mayor of Oak Lawn is doing, the Village can definitely help by voicing against the service cuts. But it’s the Federal and State Governments who aren't releasing the government funds Metra needs. When this story first broke month ago, I believe it was Renee Kosel (New Lenox) who felt it's was Metra's way of trying to force the Government into releasing transportation funds by threatening to cut service. Since Metra isn't getting the funding they normally get, they've been sending out surveys trying to see if commuters prefer increased fares or reduced schedules. But for this one, it's definitely not the individual municipalities fault.
Joseph J. Solek September 15, 2011 at 07:26 PM
Maybe the village's vote on Ninety7fifty should be postponed until the Metra schedule is finalized?
Jim Vondracek September 16, 2011 at 02:13 PM
Who might we contact at Metra to urge against these service cuts?
JohnEggert September 16, 2011 at 02:18 PM
If the trend in municipal development is - and has been - "transit oriented development", how can we have that with either inadequate rail transit or none? If the goal is to develop town centers, increasing density to get more people living near rail lines and developing pedestrian friendly town centers, where (hopefully) retail and other amenities will grow, decreasing or eliminating rail service will have us going backeards for decades.
Megan James September 16, 2011 at 02:48 PM
Jim - there are several options. Brad O'Halloran is a Metra Board member, so you can get his email through Orland's Village website. However, you can also get the names of the other Metra Board members from their website -http://metrarail.com/metra/en/home/about_metra/leadership.html The CEO of Metra, Alex Clifford, also has his own twitter feed "@MetraCEO" and claims to want to hear from people via twitter also. You can also call the Office of the Board for Metra at (312) 542-8381 or email them at metraboard@metrarr.com. And there is also Metra's Citizens Advisory Board, which include the following: Patricia Mahon - Vice Chairman -Appointed by Director Edward W. Paesel, representing Suburban Cook County - works for the Village of South Holland. Timothy M. Calcagno -Appointed by Director James Dodge, representing Suburban Cook County- is currently an insurance agent for Geico Jamy L. Lyne - Appointed by Director Jack E. Partelow, representing Will County -serves as the director of policy and planning for Will County, Ill. Gary L. McClung -Appointed by Director Arlene J. Mulder, representing Suburban Cook County - currently trustee of Police Pension Fund of the Village of Arlington Heights, Ill.
Megan James September 16, 2011 at 02:50 PM
Jim - they are also claiming to accept comments via e via the online comment form (click on the “Contact Us” link from the homepage), by sending an email to onthebilevel@metrarr.com or by calling Metra’s Customer Service number on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 312-322-6777 (Press 7 to talk to a Metra representative). Comments will be accepted until Sept. 23. A final decision about the proposed changes will be made after all comments have been reviewed.
P Roberts September 20, 2011 at 06:17 PM
What a shame. The Oak Lawn downtown worker loses again. Can we take em to court for serving one area and not another? How often can we get hit over the head and keep on going?
scouter September 27, 2011 at 09:26 PM
Isn't this discriminating against those on the south side and paying off the north side again? How many trains do we really need a day on the north side? I have a friend who lives in LaGrange and she said that alot of trains that come thru there and stop to pick up passengers several times during the day and they have VERY FEW passengers to pick up. I have another friend who lives on the actual north side and she laughs about our train troubles and can't understand what the problem is - after all, they have trains every 15 to 20 minutes and doesn't everybody have that? Come on Metra - you are closing the door way to people who really do appreciated the trains.... Cut it where there are EXCESS trains - not where there are barely any trains!
Jesse Marx September 28, 2011 at 02:01 AM
Scouter, Here's the update: http://patch.com/A-mgqf Metra has temporarily decided not to cut any service. Alex Clifford, Metra's CEO, and his staff say the proposal wasn't discriminatory, but based on low ridership. Here's an expert from the story above: Clifford said SWS was part of a two-year demonstration program from the RTA—in response to highway and CTA repairs—and due to low ridership, the cost of the service was no longer justified. “We predicted 200 riders per train on Saturday. The total ridership was 400 for the entire day,” Judy Pardonnet, a spokeswoman for Metra, said, which is about 28 percent of the passengers they initially targeted. Hope this helps.


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