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This is what happens when you don’t take care of your transportation infrastructure

Monday, Aug 27, 2018 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Things are not going well (again) for some commuters this afternoon…

* Go to Metra’s website and you’ll see this

Metra has an unsustainable economic model and faces the worst financial crisis in its 33-year history. In addition to a chronic lack of adequate funding for capital assets, such as rolling stock and infrastructure, Metra is now faced with decreased funding for operations. […]

Because capital funding has been inadequate, Metra now has the oldest commuter fleet in the nation. Approximately 40 percent of Metra’s assets are classified as in marginal or worn condition. Half of the 800 bridges in Metra’s system are 100 years old or older. These assets, while safe, have exceeded their useful lives. Metra will always run a safe railroad, but continued use will result in higher operating costs and degraded on-time performance.

Public funding for operating costs, provided through a regional transportation sales tax and a partial state match, is falling short. […]

Public funding for capital is also falling short. In past decades, the state recognized the need to fund capital improvements for public transportation and did so regularly. In recent years, the lack of a state bond program for capital investment has had impacts on funding for public transportation. Metra understands it cannot continue to ask its customers to pay higher fares in the absence of adequate public funding. […]

The current situation is unsustainable, and threatens the future viability of the important service Metra provides. Funding levels will need to change to ensure Metra can continue to provide the service its riders depend upon, or else that service will have to be cut.

Remember earlier today when several suburban Republican legislators were screaming about the prospect of more government spending? One even called increased spending “evil.” I wonder if any of them took the Metra home after their press conference.


  1. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 5:41 pm:

    Rich didn’t you post a photo a couple of weeks back of a decaying support column? Was that Metra’s?

  2. - VanillaMan - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 6:04 pm:

    I blame Kirk Dillard, right?

  3. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 6:12 pm:

    == several suburban Republican legislators were screaming about the prospect of more government spending? One even called increased spending “evil.”==

    They claim to hate government spending, but you rarely, if ever, see a list of specific cuts that would add up to something meaningful.

  4. - DuPage Saint - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 6:20 pm:

    Interesting word choice by railroad. Your train has been annulled.

  5. - JS Mill - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 6:25 pm:

    GOP- we want we just don’t want to pay.

  6. - Anon - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 6:26 pm:

    Yes, Metra is horribly mismanaged, but that is not all. PTC was mandated in 2008, but metra waited until now to start implementation. Worse, they have implied past fare increases were for PTC and car replacement, but really were used solely for increased operational costs.

  7. - Anonymous - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 6:36 pm:

    I’m guessing a couple of those legislators took the train in. Also they all have thousands of constituents who rely on Metra everyday.

  8. - BlueDogDem - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 6:44 pm:

    $29 million for an indoor track stadium or helping Metra. Let your feelings be heard.

  9. - Rusty Bridges - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 6:54 pm:

    Sorry but I just find it very difficult to believe that anything Kirk Dillard is involved with could be larded up and horribly run.

  10. - Anonymous - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 6:59 pm:

    How much is Dillard paid?

  11. - Anonymous - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 7:16 pm:

    –Remember earlier today when several suburban Republican legislators were screaming about the prospect of more government spending? One even called increased spending “evil.”–

    No worries, none of their constituents ride Metra into that den of iniquity, Chicago.

    They’re all making Big Money working for Saluki, the guy who thinks someone else other than Chicago and the suburbs wants to pay his bills.

  12. - OneMan - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 7:30 pm:

    They have bee raising fares significantly over the last few years.

  13. - Anon - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 7:35 pm:

    We are in the midst of the longest economic expansion the country has seen and yet during that period Illinois has managed to fix nothing. Infrastructure still crumbling, budget still not balanced, pensions still a mess.

    If we have any sort of economic downturn the next few years as has been widely predicted (good times don’t last forever) this state is going to be near ungovernable.

  14. - Sue - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 7:36 pm:

    This is what happens when the worst funded pension plans absorb 25 percent of State revenues. Get used to it folks

  15. - City Zen - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 7:36 pm:

    ==GOP- we want we just don’t want to pay.==

    Metra is free?

    Seriously, why don’t they take some of that lockbox money. Oh wait…

  16. - Roman - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 8:03 pm:

    == One even called increased spending “evil.” ==

    Evil? Seems to me that same legislator just voted for a budget that increased spending thanks to last year’s tax increase — increased spending signed into law by the governor he was shilling for today.

  17. - Anonymous - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 8:04 pm:

    Truth—> This is what happens when the worst funded pension plans absorb 25 percent of State revenues. Get used to it folks.

  18. - zatoichi - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 8:09 pm:

    Scream don’t raise taxes, but ya got about $6B in coming expenses. Those bridges will not heal themselves. Specifically, what gets cut and how much. Schools, social services, medical, townships?

  19. - A transit rider - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 8:23 pm:

    Dillard chairs the RTA, not Metra, which has its own Board appointed by the County Boards

  20. - Anon - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 8:30 pm:

    The big problem is that the increasing pension payments from the general fund alone will eat up all the new tax revenue that will be generated by any increase and won’t do a single thing to address any of the other problems in the state.

    What the politicians have done to this state for 20 years now in terms of our finances is criminal.

    Sadly people still don’t get how bad the situation is. They think that things will be all back to how it used to be around 2000 once JB assumes the thrown, where money was plentiful and we could have everything we wanted without having to worry about the bill.

  21. - Eastside - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 8:52 pm:

    Did I miss the capital bill the Dem-controlled GA passed in the last 15 years?

  22. - Ok - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 9:17 pm:

    “Did I miss the capital bill the Dem-controlled GA passed in the last 15 years?“


  23. - Ok - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 9:18 pm:

    A clear reminder that the suburban wealth doesn’t exist without investments in Chicago.

  24. - jibba - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 9:31 pm:

    GOP=Get Out of Paying

  25. - NIU Grad - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 10:31 pm:

    The complaint about customer communication is an issue Metra could address. For example, how many customers know what “signal problems” are? To many, that might seem more like bungling mismanagement than some severe infrastructure failure. Also, many of the people standing in that station would likely appreciate honesty about what is happening besides just vague delay messages. If they were told at the beginning that the estimated repair time would be two hours, they could have used that time more usefully than standing in an overheating terminal. I work in government and I don’t even know what an “annulled” train is. Open, honest, and useful communications would go a long way for them.

  26. - Stuntman Bob's Brother - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 10:34 pm:
    Not sure how this will affect Metra operations, but it is a loss for the Rockford area. I’m surprised that this plant is being closed after only six years in service, I would have thought a Japanese company would have had their act together a little better than that, unless they milked some TIF-equivalent dollar cow dry in that period. I believe there were 400 jobs up there at one time.

  27. - Precinct Captain - Monday, Aug 27, 18 @ 10:36 pm:

    This fall, from the creators of Cuomo’s MTA comes Rauner’s RTA

  28. - Just Lurking - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 12:10 am:

    None of these comments mention that it was about 85 degrees on the mezzanine where people were jammed in like sardines due to implementation of the overcrowding plan.
    If there were a traffic light on a tertiary street that broke as often as the switches on the BNSF line, politicians would find money to fix that light. But the switches that 10,000 people a day pass over just keep breaking and are fixed with band aids.

  29. - Galena Guy - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 2:28 am:

    Ever since Proposition 13 way back when in California - 1978 to be precise (and I was three years out of high school), Republicans have been screaming about “waste and fraud”in government and how if we just eliminated that we could run this country on the spare change and lint in Rich Miller’s right pants pocket. It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now and both the state of Illinois and the United States are suffering from the effects of that half baked and demonstrably false notion. Unfortunately there are many Democrats who have also run on that ignorant idea. The voters of this country deserve to be told the truth no matter how ugly it is and the truth is that we have been giving the short end of the stick to our infrastructure ever since that day back in 1978

  30. - Huh? - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 7:21 am:

    The tracks that Metra uses are not owned by Metra. They are owned by the freight train companies. They should pay to maintain their systems.

  31. - Big Jer - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 8:07 am:

    As other commenters have mentioned, pension payments will absorb at least 25 percent of revenues.

    However if that is the case how are highways and roadways getting funding? Doesn’t mass transit/rail funding and highway funding come from the same “pot”?

    In recent memory:

    I-90 from River Rd to Rockford was completely rebuilt and widened.
    The Tri State is next to be widened.
    The Elgin Ohare Expressway is being extended to Ohare.
    In northern Kane County the Longmeadow Parkway is a new four lane road being built.

    Unlike Europe and Asia the US has in recent decades moved away from mass transit. Other countries had high speed rail for decades while the US has suburban sprawl and a car centric culture. Anyone who travels to Europe is amazed by the light rail and mass transit that is cheap, fast, and clean.

    Yes, in Illinois and other states the pension issue is huge but this is also about cultural choices and what we value and the US has since the 1960’s been a car culture. Once oil becomes more expensive and eventually runs out then maybe mass transit will be valued.

  32. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 8:35 am:

    Was Metra in strong financial shape 4 years ago?

  33. - the Patriot - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 8:39 am:

    We don’t need more government spending. We are already spending more than we have. We need to stop spending on what makes people vote for democrats and spend money where the needs are.

    Madigan has personally crafted every budget for decades and 10 of the last 14 years he had democrat governors. The problem was not created by republicans.

    You don’t need a republican vote to pass a capital plan.

  34. - Pundent - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 8:42 am:

    =This is what happens when the worst funded pension plans absorb 25 percent of State revenues. Get used to it folks.=

    No, this is what happens when you put everything on a credit card and can’t pay the bill when it comes due. We haven’t matched revenue to spending needs (Metra, pension obligations, etc.) and the result is predictable.

  35. - GA Watcher - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 8:45 am:

    Metra should not have chosen the BNSF line to be the guinea pig for the Positive Train Control (PTC) measures it implemented this summer. Morning trains are nearly always late and overcrowded. It should have worked out the PTC bugs on one of the lines with fewer passengers vs the one with the most.

  36. - Whatever - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 8:54 am:

    Sue ==This is what happens when the worst funded pension plans absorb 25 percent of State revenues.==

    More accurately, this and the underfunding of pensions are both examples of how playing catch-up is so much more costly than staying current with your costs.

  37. - A guy - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 8:55 am:

    ==How much is Dillard paid?==

    I think it’s $25K per year. Not a profitable gig. He also lives on the BNSF line. The rest of Metra is a lot better than BNSF. That one’s been having lousy service problems for a few years now.
    Great stations to do literature at. Trains are late 100% of the time.

  38. - OneMan - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 8:57 am:

    Ok this is going to be long.

    I was on the train that started all of this last night, the 3:17 departure.

    We did not move far, in fact, the last three cars of the train were still on the platform (it was track 2 at union which has a really long platform).

    At first, we just sat, no news or anything. That isn’t that unusual, it seems Metra/BNSF has adopted a policy of getting you out of the station and then stopping (I guess so they can say they departed on time). After about 20 minutes, we are informed that we had run a red signal. That appears to be the equivalent of an accident since we were told the crew needed to be replaced. (After an accident Metra replaces the crew so the duty crew can be drug tested). Also isn’t PCT supposed to prevent this?

    So more waiting and a couple of announcements (not over the PA at first) that we might be able to get off the train and try catching another one. A host of people did.
    We were then told that a replacement crew was 10-15 away, about 10 minutes later people (mostly dudes) including a guy with a measuring wheel show up. That wasn’t a good sign.

    As I am walking off the train there are people waiting for the next train on that track, Metra did not communicate with them that there was a train stopped 200 yards away and there wasn’t going to be a train on that track for a while.

    I ended up taking an uber and it took me three hours between the time my train was supposed to depart vs the time I got to my destination.

    The switch and signal would have been Amtrak’s since when there are Union Station switching/signaling issues Metra is always more than willing to blame Amtrak.

    Besides the unreliable service, the big issue I have with Metra (and I suspect many of my fellow commuters) is that they do a terrible job communicating when issues come up.

    For example, they even tweeted that they were told the train I was on would begin moving shortly, ultimately (I was in an Uber at this point) an hour after it left, it was canceled (they now use the term annulled).

  39. - Pundent - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 9:10 am:

    =The rest of Metra is a lot better than BNSF.=

    I’ve been a rider of both the BNSF and North Central lines and would beg to differ. They all suffer from neglect. And with the frequency of trains and better express track configuration I would argue that the BNSF line is vastly superior to the lines that run north.

  40. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 9:12 am:

    Yep, let’s just take Metra executives’ word for it. No spending problems to see here.

  41. - TAXEDOUTWEST - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 3:41 pm:

    Here is a novel concept…start charging for a ride ticket what it costs to operate!!! X+Y=Z. Where “X” is operating costs, “Y” is capital expenditures, and “Z” the price of a ticket. We all learned this in grade school….well, maybe if you were raised outside of IL

  42. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Aug 28, 18 @ 3:53 pm:

    ===We all learned this in grade school===

    Don’t be an idiot, please.

    Have you any idea how many government subsidies there are for cars?

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