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Hyde Parkers Worry More Metra Service Coming At Southern Neighbors Expense

By Sam Cholke | June 23, 2017 6:39am
 Jeff Brantz, right, Metra manager of service design, said he will be tweaking the proposed new schedule for the Electric Line after hearing from the community.
Jeff Brantz, right, Metra manager of service design, said he will be tweaking the proposed new schedule for the Electric Line after hearing from the community.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — Metra officials said they’re going to tweak a revised schedule that would increase trains on the Electric Line through Hyde Park after talking to the community about the trade-offs for stops farther down the line.

Metra officials wrapped up four days of community meetings on the changes that would increase trains in and out of Hyde Park to every 20 minutes from nearly an hour on weekdays.

Hyde Parkers, who would benefit the most from the changes, cheered the increased service and said it would be a boon to the neighborhood, but worried about the price those down the line might have to pay.

“I’m strongly in favor of expanding service on this line, but I’m not in favor of increasing service at the expense of people to the south,” said Anne Rogers of Hyde Park.

Ruth Laski of East Side was sitting next to Rogers at the Thursday meeting at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Exchange, 1452 E. 53rd St., and said she was one of those who would pay the price.

Among the cuts in the new schedule is a reduction in late-night trains to South Chicago, the trains Laski said she needs to make it home when she has to stay late for her job Dontown.

“There won’t be any trains going where I need to go after 8:30 p.m.,” Laski said.

Others said it would mean that anyone living in South Chicago and works the night shift could no longer take the train to their job.

Jeff Brantz, manager of service design for Metra, said he had heard similar comments at the other three meetings and will be combing through the many comments about what specific trains people use to get to work to tweak the schedule.

The cutbacks in service in the new schedule largely affected the least used trains, trains that stopped at 63rd Street or elsewhere and required a transfer to get Downtown. Metra officials said some of those train cars, which can hold up to 145 people, were moving an average of six passengers a day.

Most of those shorter-run trains would be consolidated into a single train run that goes all the way Downtown, but which Metra officials say they now need to tweak so it's working for passengers trying to get to work on time.

The Electric Line would continue to run more than twice as many trains as any other line on Saturdays, but would cut service back to 80 trains from 124 by eliminating service to the Blue Island branch of the line on Saturdays.

The tweaks Metra officials said they would make did not appear to jeopardize the larger vision of increased service for Hyde Park, the busiest stops on the only Metra line that has been steadily losing ridership for 30 years.

The plan relies on spacing out trains headed to the three branches of the line — Blue Island, University Park and South Chicago — as well as the mid-line stops in Kensington, so they pass Hyde Park every 20 minutes. Currently, the trains to the various branches all pass through Hyde Park within five minutes of each other and with an hour gap before another pack of trains passes again.

Brantz said the idea is to be more flexible with the schedule in the future to figure out what works for the line.

The Electric Line hasn’t had a major change in its schedule in 30 years despite large changes to the areas it serves like the closure of the U.S. Steel South Works site and the rise of the University of Chicago as the largest employer on the South Side.

“We’re trying to get people thinking about jobs in Hyde Park because that’s where its growing,” Brantz said.

Metra said the rollout of the new schedule won’t happen until at least the fall and will be brought back to the community first.

A new marketing campaign more directly advertising the benefits of the individual service lines will also roll out around the same time.