Metra aims to increase punctuality of trains

Audrey Cheng and Audrey Cheng

After releasing its worst on-time performance record in five years, Metra is striving to increase the punctuality of its trains, a Metra representative told The Daily on Wednesday.

Metra calculated that trains arrived on schedule 93.4 percent of the time in 2011, according to a report released in early January. From 2007 to 2010, the commuter rail system announced on-time performance records more than 95 percent of the time.

The punctuality of trains is determined by whether they arrive at their destination within six minutes of their scheduled arrival time. Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said the Metra has a GPS tracking system that keeps track of when trains arrive at their final destination. Then a compilation of the arrival times is calculated into a yearly sum and a percentage is computed monthly to show how often the trains are on time.

Consumers should not view last year’s lower number as too drastic of a change, Gillis said. For 2011, he said, Metra retooled the way it computes on-time performance to be more transparent for its riders.

In prior years, Metra did not count trains that were delayed by construction on tracks, such as signals and stations, in its late-train total. When train officials realized riders did not care about the reasons behind those delays, they began classifying them as late trains in their calculations.

That revision is primarily responsible for the drop in percentages, Gillis said.

Still, he added a punctuality rate of 93.4 percent is not where Metra wants to be, saying the commuter rail system is working to increase that number.

“We have a meeting every day in which we go over all the delays from the day before, looking at what caused them and looking at if there is something we should be doing differently to avoid them in the future,” he said.

But not all Metra riders have been influenced by the late-arriving trains Gillis cites.

Medill sophomore Michelle Wingard, who takes the Metra for her journalism class, said she has not experienced any severe delays.

“Most of the time, it’s pretty on time, but some of the time it’s maybe five minutes late,” Wingard said. “It’s never past five minutes late.”

Wingard has never been late to class because of a late train, she said – it’s actually the opposite.

“I tried to make the 9:30 train to get to class, and I was literally one minute away,” Wingard said. “I saw it go, so I was late to class because it was on time.”

Gillis attributed most of the delays to freight trains, which either cross Metra train tracks or pass in front of Metra trains.

“Some of the tracks we have are intersected by freight railroads, and sometimes they have a train crossing for a large range, and we have to wait for it,” Gillis said. “So one of the things we’re really focusing on is working with all of the freight railroads in Chicago to minimize those delays as much as possible.”

Gillis said although the percentage of on-time performance has decreased, the ridership in 2011 increased from 2010.

“In November, our year-to-date ridership was 1.6 percent higher than in the same period in 2010, so I wouldn’t be able to tell you that we lost riders because of the delays,” Gillis said. “What drives our ridership more than anything else is the economy – whether people are working so they need to take our trains to their jobs.”

University of Chicago freshman Garrison Jones said he uses the Metra to travel around Chicago and has never had to wait for a delayed train.

“It’s a lot harder taking the train down back from campus only because the trains run so often,” Jones said. “But it really hasn’t been delayed.”

[email protected]