Sunday, 28 September 2014

ST. LOUIS MetroLink

The third stop on my 2014 U.S. tour brought me to St. Louis, where I had already been on my very first U.S. trip back in 1995, but at that time I think I only took MetroLink once or twice from the Delmar area into the city and back again.
     The first thing that stroke me yesterday on my first trip from the airport towards downtown was that all stations have a vigilant, which I interpreted as a bad sign after having seen no or hardly any in Chicago or Minneapolis/St. Paul. And as I would find out later, these vigilants are primarily visible on the northern leg, although many of them are young girls who rather play with their mobile devices than actually watch the station. Anyway, not a setting too inviting to take many pictures.
     With a one and a half hour delay to arrive in St. Louis (I think it was due to major problems in the Chicago air space), I did not have much time yesterday to explore the system, so my main day was today, Saturday Sept 27, when trains only run every 20 minutes on each line, so waiting times can be rather long on outer legs. Given that they only operate 2-car sets, the headways should really be reduced especially on the Airport Line which gets pretty crowded up to North Hanley where many people transfer to buses (I resume they are going to northern suburbs like the now world-famous Ferguson).
The second important impression was that this system has a very German feel about it. If you close your eyes and hear the doors shut, with this cracking sound of their folding doors you might think that this is an old train in Frankfurt or Düsseldorf. Also these door-opening buttons were once typical for many German trams. Of course, the high-level platforms give an absolute Stadtbahn feeling, too. In fact, those cars are based on the type B Stadtbahn car developed by Duewag, which was later integrated into Siemens. At the front, next to the driver's cab, they have an additional door like that in Pittsburgh, with steps, but I think it is only used for staff stops at the depots. The cars, however, are a bit aging and don't have modern equipment like station indicators, instead the drivers make all announcements personally, in fact, they almost talk continuously giving all sorts of announcements like next stop and where this train goes, but mostly instructions about what to do and what not. As they do this continuously it gets a bit monotonous and hard to understand.
In the stations there are no properly working indicators, either, not even the automatic announcements are ideal. Even at the junction at Forest Park, the announcement would just say 'A westbound train is arriving in 30 seconds', instead of clearly indicating where this train is actually going. So passengers have to check the front of the train to know if it's theirs. Mostly the driver would then repeat the train's destination so people can jump off if they are on the wrong line. Apparently the network is not properly equipped with a system that identifies trains and thus enables proper information on platform panels. Maybe they wait until they get new trains to modernise this system.

Like on the train front, also at station accesses a huge (M) logo is visible on a pole which also displays the name of the station, so St. Louis boasts one of a few such systems in the U.S. to use a proper logo, something I always welcome
Of all American light rail systems, St. Louis' MetroLink is among the most metro-like when it comes to right-of-way. Long sections are grade-separated, and the newer Blue Line branch to Shrewsbury is almost completely a real metro line. At the existing level crossings, however, drivers are obliged to blow the horn twice, which I find really exaggerated, especially when they can clearly see that the barriers are down and there is no car or person anywhere nearby. For people living nearby any horn not blown would increase the quality of life!

The stations, especially after recently having seen those in Minneapolis/St. Paul, are rather basic, although all have some sort of shelter, but again they are similar to many Stadtbahn stations in Germany, which in most cases are not too sophisticated either. Two of them, Stadium and Forsyth, could also be in Stuttgart, where many such stops are located next to an adjoining tunnel. 

The older underground stations in the city centre are rather dark, with a slightly vaulted concrete ceiling which is illuminated indirectly. The staircases leading to the side platforms on level -1 are quite wide and offset from the platforms. 

The two newer underground stations on the Shrewsbury line are much larger, though not much brighter. What was very disappointing at the University City-Big Bend station (I did not get off at Skinker) were the access stairs and the mezzanine which feel like an unfinished concrete staircase leading down to a cheaply built underground car park, a shame really, because the station hall as such is quite impressive with its massive arches that support the vault.
Accesses seem to be a weak point in other stations, too, most notably at Brentwood where they forgot to build simple stairs in addition to long ramps, or at Forest Park, where only narrow stairs lead to the also narrow platform, although there are two lifts from platform to street level, too. At the airport, the terminus is reasonably close to the check-in area (compared to Chicago O'Hare and Midway and also Minneapolis' both terminals!), but at Terminal 2 passengers have to walk through or over a car park, although the walking distance is not too bad. St. Louis' Gateway railway station is connected to MetroLink's Civic Center station. Interestingly, surface stations in St. Louis also have heating devices – does it get that cold here?
     The Red Line now has a stately length of 61 km! But the question arises if this was really necessary. Apparently, an old railway right-of-way was available for most of its length, but the southeastern most section to College and eventually Shiloh-Scott was built through open countryside. Today was Saturday, so I probably didn't see its real ridership, but I wonder if it gets enough passengers during the week to justify a double-track line through the countryside when many other parts of the proper conurbation don't have any comparable type of service but have to cope with buses instead? Many stations, especially on this branch, are only surrounded by big car parks, whereas trains run through built-up areas without stopping. I would at least suggest an additional station at Belleville South.

A weak point of the otherwise rather fast service is that it avoids large parts of the city centre. I suppose, ideally, the line should have run further north along Washington Avenue or Olive Street to serve important parts of Midtown. Grand station covers parts of that area, but its location under an elevated freeway does certainly not make it an attractive alternative. Hopefully the future Delmar Loop Trolley may one day be extended along this corridor to provide a more local service than MetroLink.
     St. Louis' fare collection system also has a very German feel to it. No fancy smartcards exclusively (there are card readers), instead, day passes are issued as simple paper tickets you show to the bus driver or to ticket inspectors on trains, but I didn't see any. For tickets bought in advance there are German-style validating machines.

Next stop: Dallas


MetroLink at UrbanRail.Net

Saturday, 27 September 2014


The Twin Cities were the second stop after Chicago on this year's U.S. tour, and although I didn't precisely like the two cities as such, their light rail system is certainly among the best in the country, especially for its frequency.
The colour-coded lines were built with a 10-year break between them and they are therefore rather different from each other, but they have in common that they link important centres rather than radiating from one city centre and ending in some low-density neighbourhood. The older Blue Line (initially the Hiawatha Line) connects downtown Minneapolis to the airport and the Mall of America, said to be the largest shopping mall in the USA (not sure about that, but with a huge amusement park in the middle it is certainly special). So there is always a certain level of demand for this line which therefore operates every ten minutes throughout the day. The newer Green Line has a similar even ridership, linking downtown Minneapolis to downtown Saint Paul and serving the busy University of Minnesota campus in between. The Green Line therefore also provides a 10-minute headway throughout the day, but additionally it actually runs 24 hours a day, approx. hourly during nighttime hours!

     The two lines, however, have a rather different type of alignment. The Blue Line runs partly segregated with fewer stations, so overall its faster, whereas the Green Line appears to be a typical European-style modern tramway, i.e. it runs on a reservation in the middle of an urban road for most of its length. Its overall speed is slower, but in the end, I guess, it would be my preferred option if I lived along the line, because it is better integrated into the urban structure and stations are placed at major intersections. The trains on this line do have to stop at several road intersections, but all in all, I think they travel at quite a high speed between stations, maybe a surveillance system should be implemented which adapts the speed to the traffic light cycle, and, of course, the tram should at least be able to keep a traffic light on green when it approaches a junction. All in all, the line is well built, the new Siemens trains run smoothly and even the downtown section in St. Paul is run through at a reasonable speed (well, it is not really a busy city centre, most vehicles on the streets are city buses!). 

What does get on my nerves, though, is the continuous bell ringing (also because I could hear it constantly from my hotel room all through the night. Apart from the bell, you can also hear a full horn blow as a special warning, the same sound Amtrak or freight trains all over America produce all the time. How have we Europeans survived without all these warning sounds?

     The major crawling section of the system is in downtown Minneapolis, where also some scissors crossovers look pathetic and feel horrible as the trams rattle over them, notably north of Downtown East (the Metrodome annex has been dropped as this venue is currently being newly built), and between Nicollet Mall and the original terminus at Warehouse District. At Target Field, they have recently opened a new station, and I had been wondering what happened to the old one – well, the trains stop twice, basically the old one is mostly used as it is closer to the Northstar commuter rail entrance and also for exiting the station. So it is not quite obvious why they built the new one with its nice white roof. To skip the old one in case of another tram coming right behind? It's a nice photo motif anyway! The slowest section is actually between Target Field and Warehouse District because of badly coordinated traffic lights. At Nicollet Mall, the proper city centre stop, an additional eastern side platform seems to be under construction. This station has a massive centre structure that carries the roof, but also obstructs the platform enormously. This station may even become busier when the planned streetcar line along Nicollet Mall is implemented.
The junction where the Green Line splits from the Blue Line south of Downtown East isn't too convincing. There are three tracks, and outbound Green Line trains actually have to wind their way through the junction via two adjoining crossovers, so they could theoretically remain on the centre track, which is the inbound Blue Line track, but this way they have to go rather slow and it is not pleasant for passengers who are shaken. In fact, twice the train was stopped at that location, and a prerecorded announcement said, there is a delay to evenly space trains. So were we too fast? Anyway, the train proceeded almost immediately. I would have preferred a proper trailing junction where the outbound Green Line track simply cuts across the inbound Blue Line track.
Both on the Blue and Green Line, all stations are quite substantial structures with some sections covered and with wind shelters – and what I hadn't seen elsewhere, with heaters mounted to the roof which passengers can put on when they freeze. With 27! degrees yesterday on a late September day, I did, of course, not get a chance to test this system, although the first thing that comes to my mind is how much energy does that waste? Can anybody give us their winter experience in Minneapolis/St. Paul?

     Apart from the only elevated station on the Blue Line, at Lake/Midtown, the single most important structure is the underground station at the Airport Terminal 1 – Lindbergh, which boasts a rather pleasant design, not like a tiny underground tram stop, but rather a full metro station. It is however, quite a long way from the actual terminal, so people have to take a short underground people mover, which like in those Las Vegas hotels is referred to as 'tram'. The trains speed up quite impressingly as they go through the tunnel.
     The Blue Line's terminus at Mall of America, however, is really ugly, lying in the middle of a bus loop located on the lower deck of a parking garage. If this is where it ends now, I don't really understand why they made it take a long detour from 28th Avenue, instead of taking it directly into this basement place from the eastern side?

     The spacing of stations wasn't always convincing. In the university area, I would prefer two stops on the East Bank, the first about two blocks further west, and another one, possibly instead of Stadium Village towards the eastern end of Washington Avenue, as the current Stadium Village stop needs time-consuming crossing of roads to get there. In fact, I don't understand why the Green Line needs to take this detour via Stadium Village and an existing transitway to Prospect Park. Why doesn't it stay on a straight alignment from Washington Avenue directly to University Avenue, would save some 2-3 minutes. There was no visible reason for me why trains need to run this detour. In downtown St. Paul, I would have place the 10th Street stop on Cedar Street further down, maybe on 8th, the gap between 'Central' and 10th Street seems to long for a city centre, but again, it is not a very busy city centre anyway.
On both lines, all stations have some sort of artwork, though this is more or less visible at first sight. On the Blue Line, also the roof structure is varying from station to station. There are next-train indicators, but they did not work, they don't even show the destination, just the time and some message. The next train is announced acoustically as for example „The next northbound train to downtown Minneapolis is due in two minutes“. Unfortunately the stations don't display a full system map, which would be good for bus connections, but there is a neighbourhood map also showing bus lines.

     What also gets on my nerves after a while is the endless invitation to report any suspicious activity! What sort of activities do they expect to be reported?
     The original Metro fleet was delivered by Bombardier (they are based on Cologne's low-floor stock) and they are still quite nice, now most also in new livery with a yellow front, although the middle bogie seems to rattle more that on the new Siemens trains, but also these have non-motorised centre bogies which tend to rattle a bit on faster sections. I find both with their livery rather photogenic, and with their colourful front, photos under a cloudy sky even look acceptable. Several units carry full adverts, something I generally don't like much, especially if the advert also inhibits a proper view outside. 

Inside, the trains feature bike racks, which are actually used a lot. But they don't have luggage racks, although the Blue Line goes to a busy airport, there is enough multi-use space, though (so Edinburgh's decision makers should have come here before ordering their trams). During my two days in the area, I only saw 3-car trains on both lines, which combined with the 10-minute headway mentioned above provides a good quality of service. And the trains were reasonably full at all times (I don't know about late night). They have quite a strong air-conditioning unit, certainly good on hot days, and I guess it also operates as heating during freezing winter days. In this context, it is strange that all doors open at all times although there are individual door opening buttons and also sort of detectors like on Bochum's Stadtbahn trains. Yesterday late afternoon, as I was going back to St. Paul, there was some accident and I had to change to bus line 16 instead, and saw once again how much more pleasant it is to ride a train than a bus! By the way, on the trains, corresponding bus routes are announced with their numbers.
     Unlike Chicago's CTA, Metro Transit does have several proper information centres, the one in Minneapolis is located centrally on Marquette Avenue with an old bus front as its shop window. The one in St. Paul, however, is hidden in one of those Skyways that link all the buildings and add to the rather deserted streets.
     Fortunately, Metro Transit has a flat fare system (except Northstar), although with single fares being higher during peak times, but then valid for all sorts of transfers within a 2.5 hour period. Express buses require a higher fare. A 24-hour pass is available at $6.00. They also have a contactless smartcard system called Go-To, but single and day tickets are also sold as paper tickets with a magnetic strip used to check the tickets on buses. The expiry time is printed clearly visible on the ticket.
    What I like about Metro Transit is their overall use of a nice red (T) logo, also used at bus stops (although bus stops could have some more easily visible line information next to the logo post, not just inside the shelters!) The (T) logo is, however, not well established outside the system, for example at the airports the signs just say 'Light Rail Transit'.
     I did not ride Northstar, the commuter rail line, as it is indeed a mere commuter rail system, with some five or six trains in the main commuting direction and only one in the opposite, so to check it out there would only be a single combination possible in the afternoon to return to Minneapolis, which I didn't bother to find out soon enough.

Next Stop: St. Louis


Minneapolis/St. Paul at UrbanRail.Net

Thursday, 25 September 2014


I have just left Chicago after exploring its 'L' system for five days. I'm sitting on the Empire Builder on my way to Minneapolis/St. Paul, but find it hard to use my netbook as the train wobbles and trembles too much to use a mouse and do some proper work. Anyway, this is September 23rd, and Chicago was the first stop on a 1-month tour through the American Midwest and South, all in preparation for my forthcoming book "Subways &Light Rail in the USA – Vol. 3 Midwest & South" due to be released in December 2014. So there will hopefully be more interesting blog entries in the next few weeks, so check back if you're interested.

The Chicago 'L' is quite well known so I won't give you a general description of the system, just my thoughts and impressions after riding the system intensively over the last few days and taking hundreds of photographs (which is no problem at all, it seems, I have never been addressed by anybody, just yesterday a woman took pictures of me while I was taking photos and probably meant to report me for 'out-of-the-ordinary' activity, although this was actually outside the station proper at Sox/35th on the Red Line). All in all, transit police or other vigilants are hardly present anywhere, which I hope is a good sign. Generally, I would say, people's behaviour is quite good and I felt quite comfortable on all trains. The only sections I didn't ride were the two southern ends of the Green Line beyond Garfield as they go through areas often quoted as delicate.

The fare system has now been completely changed to contactless smartcards, a system called Ventra (would be interesting to know why this is the name as to me it suggests 'belly, womb' as in Spanish 'vientre'). Arriving at O'Hare, it took me quite a while to get my 7-day ticket, not because the vending machines were so difficult to handle, but because they ask for your ZIP code when paying with a card, and I misunderstood this for PIN code, which would be what I would expect to enter. Living in Germany, my credit card can be identified by a 5-digit ZIP code, but what would happen if someone had a British or Canadian card with their weird post codes, or countries with a 4-digit code, would that be accepted by the machine? Anyway, I think that a major entry point like O'Hare really needs a proper staffed ticket window where people are properly helped, although there are staff around to help, there is nothing worse for many people than being confronted with a machine upon arrival to a new city. This brings us already to one of the major deficiencies of the CTA system, a lack of costumer service offices. In fact, there is only one at their headquarters near Clinton (Green/Pink) station. At other stations, there is someone in the booth and they come out when help is needed at the machines, but often they looked like saying 'please don't disturb me'. I think, any transit operator should have several staffed offices in strategic places and well visible where potential riders can go and ask for information. Network maps, especially the large system map, are available at the ticket gates in most stations, the smaller downtown map was also available in some places and also at the Tourist Office.
When you buy a single-ride ticket (with transfer within two hours or so) or a day ticket, you get a disposable paper smartcard, but anything valid longer, is loaded on a proper Ventra plastic card, which costs $5.00, so for a first-time visitor, a 7-day pass costs 28+5 US$. But given that a single ride from O'Hare would also cost $5.00, it's still a good deal. Otherwise a flat fare is required for the entire Chicago area, as far as CTA is concerned, Metra still maintains its own fares and Ventra cannot be used as of yet, I guess it will be expanded to them in the future, too. The Ventra card can also be used to store money to pay in shops. Although a day pass costs $10.00, all in all, the CTA fare system is quite good and easy to handle.

The 'L' system is changing continuously, which is natural, given that some of the elevated sections on the Green or Brown Lines are some 120 years old! CTA has closed entire sections over a longer period for upgrading, and now there were also lots of announcements 'We are being delayed because crews are working on the tracks' and often I actually saw workers walking on the tracks. Good results are perceivable on the southern Red Line, which was upgraded a few years ago, and which allows speeds of 100 km/h, I would guess, providing a similar experience to BART or DC's Metro. The Blue Line to O'Hare is quite fast beyond Belmont, although trains tend to hop a bit, but otherwise it is quite a crawl like most other lines. I also took the Purple Line Express once from Belmont to Howard, but it was so slow I was waiting for the Red Line to overtake (which it didn't, after all). Also many stations have been rebuilt, currently California (Blue Line) is out of service to be rebuilt in its traditional style, while others have been rebuilt at some stage but with a more contemporary design. Most of the Red Line's underground stations have already been refurbished, except Monroe and Clark/Division (the latter being done now), which really improved their appearance. Most of the Blue Line's underground stations, however, still boast their basic and, honestly, rather pathetic appearance, so some action is urgently needed here, too. All in all, the stations are very narrow, and now with lifts having been added to some, space and visibility is even more restricted. One thing I have not quite understood are the continuous underground platforms on both subway routes through the Loop, from Washington to Jackson on the Blue Line and from Lake to Jackson on the Red Line. The areas between the proper stations are lit, though slightly dimmer than the stations, and appear a bit spooky. I didn't walk through them, but what you see from the train is that hardly anyone is there, and those who are, you wouldn't want to meet. So wouldn't it save quite a lot of maintenance costs if these intermediate sections were closed off completely? Why were they built like that in the first place?

Signage generally is good, although next-train indicators do not exist in the entire system. At some stations there are video screens, but like with American TV news programmes, the information they are actually meant to provide, is only visible for a short moment, whereas most of the time adverts are played. If they want to play adverts to pay for the service, a split screen may be a solution, but having to waiting a full cycle until the desired information eventually comes back, is very user-unfriendly. In most cases, I thought that the indicators were positioned in the wrong place, they should be above the platform next to where people wait, actually a kind of norm on all European metros, I think. What I found missing, though, in stations are neighbourhood maps.

The elevated Loop is a funny and fascinating thing, but like a left-over from times gone by. Riding a train on it, is quite pleasant as you can enjoy the view through the streets with their high buildings, though it takes a while for visitors to figure out which line runs around the loop in which direction. But being on the street, it is more like a nuisance, very loud as the trains rattle over the iron structure, and visually rather an eye sore. Many iron trestle structure like old bridges often have an elegant appearance, but the Loop certainly hasn't, also because it looks neglected with paint peeling off. 

I can understand why New Yorkers demolished their elevated lines at least in Manhattan, and why Berlin didn't allow such structures through the city centre in the first place, instead Siemens had to build along a rather tangential route. Many of the elevated stations are not fully accessible, and climbing their steep stairs can be a pain for many, especially for those who travel to Midway Airport on the Orange Line. But, of course, tearing the elevated Loop down nowadays would kill a real landmark, but some modernisation is needed. I also suffered from its noise every night and morning as my hotel was close to the Green/Orange Line viaduct just south of the Loop. Track needs to be optimised and all other measures to be taken to reduce the noise impact. I guess the same is true for most elevated sections which often travel through the backyards of homes, a typical feature of the old 'L' routes.

What I like least in Chicago, however, is the rather unusual naming of stations. In the rest of the world there is a certain understanding that the station name should clearly identify a position within a city and should therefore be unique. In Chicago, however, the same name may appear several times as generally the name of the intersecting street is used, and streets are very long in Chicago. As a result, there are three stations called 'Chicago', five called 'Western' etc. and the worst case, there are two stations called 'Harlem' on the same line, the Blue Line! I wonder whether this system is not just confusing for visitors or also for locals and trip planners? Some stations like 'Clark/Division' actually carry the second part on all signs, whereas on some others, this is added in the acoustic announcements, e.g. at 'Grand/Milwaukee', otherwise I guess you always have to add the line colour to make sure people understand which station you mean. This is certainly easier since line colours were introduced officially in the early 1990s, I wonder how people managed to identify their station before, I guess just like 'Addison on the Howard Line' or so.

Just like in New York, what I miss for such a big system is a proper logo. In some places you can see a CTA logo, but although the 'metro' is generally called the 'L' (CTA always uses these quotation marks), there is no L-logo. True, 'L' is not the nicest letter in the alphabet for a logo, generally symmetrical letters like T, U, S or M are much nicer. Probably a Boston-style (T) would be the best choice, as it is also part of CTA and transit is a word widely used over here. It is also used in several other cities across the country, and I generally prefer a standard logo for an entire country so visitors know immediately what that is when they see such a logo. Elevated stations are, by nature, easily visible, but underground stations certainly need better signage. One example is North/Clybourn on the Red Line, which actually has a nice new headhouse (paid for by Apple, I was told), but you can actually only see it once you are in front of it, whereas a proper logo would be visible (if placed correctly) from all sides.

The CTA trains are all rather uniform although they belong to different generations, but even the blue and red colour on the older cars was removed to make them all look similar in stainless steel only. The new 5000 series is probably a good vehicle and provides a smoother ride than the older types (which are quite good, too), but if I hadn't read about them before, I wouldn't have identified them as new. It is a pity CTA is so conservative when it comes to train design, why don't they dare something more contemporary? So the big novelty for the passengers was the longitudinal seating but I've heard they don't like it much, and neither do I. They do have another, less visible, feature, though: when the doors open, they sort of kneel down to match the height of the platform. Otherwise, their setup is just like that of the older cars. I think the doors should be wider, and the standing area next to the doors should be larger. The driver's seat is always on the right side, although the larger number of stations have island platforms. This means that the driver has to get up and walk to the other side to open the doors, which in some cases costs several seconds (once I observed a driver who was hardly able to walk, no wonder that train had accumulated a long delay and the next was following soon after!). Generally, my impression was that trains run rather irregularly. I was already wondering when I saw the 'timetable' which mostly gives very vague intervals, like every 4-12 minutes...

Another anachronistic feature of the Chicago 'L' are its flat junctions on the Loop, which naturally cause some delays during peak hours, most notably at the northwest corner where two branches come into the Loop and different lines take different directions around the Loop. While the Red and Blue Lines are proper metro lines, the Loop lines have a certain Stadtbahn or light rail feel to them, especially on some outer sections, where the Pink, Brown and Purple Lines have several level crossings despite the use of a third rail power supply, but apparently this is no major safety issue. The Yellow Line (or Skokie Swift as it is still known) also features many level crossings. Until not too long ago, its outer section used an overhead wire inherited from the old North Shore interurban, but now it also has third rail throughout. Fortunately an intermediate station was added on that line recently, but it still runs nonstop through continuously built-up areas. Generally on the entire system, spacing of stations is very uneven. Historically, the old 'L' lines had too many stops, and many were closed over the years, and interestingly, new ones have been added on the Green Line, like Roosevelt or Morgan, and another one is now under construction at McCormick Place, actually in places where previously stations did exist!

Chicago kind of pioneered mass transit in the median of freeways, when it opened the Congress line to Forest Park in 1958 (now Blue Line), which actually replaced an old elevated line. Later new routes were built for the Red Line to 95th/Dan Ryan and the Blue Line to O'Hare. Generally I don't like this kind of alignment as the stations mostly are isolated from the neighbourhoods they serve and mostly not very pleasant to wait in with traffic rushing past on both sides. In the case of the Blue Line's Forest Park branch this is accentuated by very narrow and rather long ramps that lead down to the narrow platform, although the median of the freeway would actually allow a much more generous layout. Things are much more pleasant on the Blue Line's O'Hare branch.
As a network, Chicago's 'L' system basically consists of radial lines, so all transfers are located in the Loop area or nearby. Direct transfer options. i.e. without leaving the closed station area and exit to street level, only exist in very few places, namely Clark/Lake, Roosevelt and Jackson, and of course at Belmont and Fullerton where Red and Brown share the same platforms. In other cases, transfers are made via public streets, now no longer a problem with smartcards programmed for free transfers anyway (there are still many signs saying 'farecard holders only').

There is not much I could say about the Metra commuter rail system as I only used it once. I took the Metra Electric Line to South Chicago and then back to the University of Chicago at 59th Street. I have to say, I didn't like those trains, sitting upstairs you can hardly look out of the window because the windows are so small, and in fact I don't really understand the idea behind those gallery cars. Wouldn't a proper double-decker provide more capacity? Anyway, I don't like double-deckers on urban lines, and this line is pretty urban, even rather like a light rail line from where it splits from the trunk line, running in the median of an urban road, so they should really convert it to something St. Louis-like and run it more frequently to make it worthwhile. A train every hour is really no urban service. As the trunk line has four electrified tracks, a good local service with a train at least every 20 minutes should be possible. The other thought which frequently comes to my mind when I see a line like this is why doesn't it continue further downtown and out north. A tunnel under Chicago River would bring it to a deep-level station at Water Tower Square in the centre of the Magnificent Mile shopping area. Further north it could be linked to one or two of the Metra branches creating a proper RER-style system. If properly integrated into the Ventra fare system it would without doubt be very successful. I always think that Americans should more often look at Australia to see how existing railways can be converted into great urban rail systems.


Chicago at UrbanRail.Net