Metra revises UP North line schedule again

September 17, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Passengers have complained about overcrowding since Metra reduced the number of trains because of the bridge construction project.

Metra's Union Pacific North line is a commuter mainstay for the North Side and the northern suburbs that carries 3 million passengers every year. The line is beset by overcrowding, unreliable service and grumpy passengers due to a program to replace 22 bridges, many a century old.

"They are working on the tracks so you have had to change tracks to go and I've actually had to wait over an hour to go about 15 feet and they wouldn't let me off the train so sometimes it is a hassle," said Jared Savocchi, Chicago Union Pacific North line passenger

Metra is promising to unveil a new schedule by September 26 based on the passenger loads and boarding patterns it has experienced since unveiling its temporary schedule August 22. The Metra board convened Friday and said the project is moving ahead.

In other business, the board instituted new financial oversight rules to prevent future executives from improperly paying themselves bonuses as an independent auditor says happened under former Metra executive director Phil Pagano. He killed himself May 7 as the board was set to take action against him.

"I think Metra is kind of like a restaurant that had a health scare. We're the cleanest place in town now. We are going to be that way for awhile," said Jack Schaffer, Metra board member.

But Metra knows it's facing increased public scrutiny with the UPN, even as the board moved ahead Friday with efforts to hire a new inspector general and to instill new policies on nepotism. Smooth operation of a key artery in Chicago's commuter landscape is critical to the agency's reputation.

"I don't think the project has been poorly managed. It was a unique project in going down to one track there were challenges that while we anticipated it would be serious challenges, we didn't anticipate some of the travel patterns of your customers and we have adjusted to that," said Carole Doris, Metra chairwoman.

"I used to ride the el so this a step up," said Savocchi.

The bridge construction project will cost $185 million.

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