Residents voice opinions on Metra service, plans
David Kralik of Metra's division of strategic capital planning describes long-term plans that Metra is evaluating during an open house to get resident and commuter input at the Glen Ellyn Village Hall on July 12. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 20, 2012 6:27AM
GLEN ELLYN — Should Metra spend more money on maintaining its infrastructure or ensuring the trains run on time?
Should it try harder to get more state and federal funding or to make its rail lines more environmentally friendly and useful to local businesses?
DuPage County residents got to “vote” on these and other long-term priorities for the public train network at an open house July 12 at Glen Ellyn Village Hall, right across the street from the village’s Metra station.
Other forums are scheduled this month in Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will, north Cook and south Cook counties, while Chicago and west Cook County hosted forums earlier this week.
Officials will incorporate responses gathered at the forums and through Metra’s website into Metra’s strategic plan, which will be released in December, said Media Director Robert Carlson.
“This plan will play an important part in Metra’s operations well into the future, and this is a tremendous opportunity for the public to weigh in on what that future should look like,” Carlson said.
The informal events involve no speeches or organized workshops, just a series of posters explaining Metra’s planning process, its ongoing issues and its proposed maintenance and expansion projects.
About a dozen railroad officials were on hand to answer questions, and visitors received dot stickers to place next to the philosophies and goals they favored.
More than 100 dots graced the voting boards an hour after the DuPage forum opened, and the website has received votes from about 600 Chicago-area residents since the voting opened Monday, said Metra spokeswoman Lynnette Clavarella.
“We posted all the materials on the website because we wanted to make sure we got the word out to the communities we serve, and we recognized that not everyone can get to these meetings,” Claravella explained.
Active Transportation Alliance official Brenna Conway came to lobby for more walking and cycling trails that connect to train stations. The Chicago-based nonprofit group promotes urban walking, cycling and mass transit as being more economical and earth-friendly than car travel, she said.
“We think (Metra’s long-range project list) has a lot of potential,” Conway said. “What Metra is providing is good, we just need more of it. Metra needs to collaborate with other government agencies to get more of these projects going.”
DuPage County Transit Planner Daniel Thomas represented one of the government agencies present at the meeting.
“We want to make sure that we interface all the different transit modes to ensure good connectivity,” he noted. “That will help development in the county and make it easier for people to get around. Metra does a pretty good job, but they need to put more local information in the stations.”
Naperville resident Myron Sawyer came with ideas gleaned from his long career with the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad.
“I think Metra has turned the corner since the Pagano scandal,” he said.
Longtime director Phil Pagano killed himself in May 2010 after Metra launched an investigation into alleged mismanagement and financial malfeasance.
“It’s much better run now, but I still see some things it could change to make the money go farther,” he said. “Public entities tend to forget that the taxpayers have to support them and get a little bit rich in their tastes.”
Among Sawyer’s suggestions were spending less on office and depot furnishings and replacing ticket clerks in outlying stations with electronic ticket dispensers.
“Today the off-peak trains have six or seven passenger cars instead of one or two, and the ticket offices aren’t open then, so the passengers have to buy tickets from the conductor,” he said. “There’s no way a conductor can cut all those tickets in one trip, so I think Metra is losing money that way because some people are riding for free.”
For more information on Metra’s plan, visit http://metrarail.com/strategicplan. People can submit votes and comments on the website through Aug. 10.