If your Metra train starts looking like it deserves a centerspread in Better Homes and Gardens, you might want to thank a 10-ride pass holder sitting nearby.
The commuter rail agency is hiring 31 new coach cleaners, Chief Executive Officer Alex Clifford said.
The cleaners should start in a few months and the cost is expected to be $1.9 million in 2013 as Metra and the railroads it contracts with -- the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific -- phase in the new employees. In 2014, the total expense will be about $2.5 million, Clifford said last week at a Metra board meeting.
Metra raised rates on 10-ride passes by 11 percent in February and some of the $8 million it generates will pay for the extra scrubbing.
"As we indicated when we did the 10-ride increase or fare adjustment -- part of that will be used for providing cleaner coaches," Clifford said.
After surveying riders, "we got feedback from customers that showed our coaches could be cleaner," he added.
"Although we received an 83 percent satisfaction rate on cleanliness, we wanted to be aware of what some of our customers were telling us ... we think we can do better."
Metra gets about five to 10 complaints a month about less-than-pristine cars.
The agency runs 1,000 coach cars and 700 trains a day. "They come out of the yard clean -- but we've got to do some intermediate cleaning along the way," Clifford said.
Currently, Metra uses 269 coach cleaners. The 31 new hires will be divided among the various train lines accordingly: five on the Union Pacific, five on the BNSF, eight on the Milwaukee District, eight on the Electric and five on the Rock Island.