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posted: 9/29/2013 5:00 AM

Metra improvements not without challenges

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  • Don Orseno, interim executive director for Metra

    Don Orseno, interim executive director for Metra

By Don Orseno

A lot has been said and written about Metra this summer, but little of it had to do with the 4,400 men and women who work every day to make our trains as safe and as reliable as possible. It is important for riders to know that those dedicated professionals have kept their focus on providing or supporting the best possible commuter rail service. That might not make for juicy headlines, but it is good news for anyone who rides Metra or cares about public transportation.

Our on-time performance rate, for instance, has improved steadily since an unacceptable 92.4 percent in June. We worked hard to boost that rate to 94 percent in July, 95.2 percent in August and about 96.5 percent so far in September.

There are many other examples of good things happening at Metra. Ridership has been up year-over-year for the past four months. We are rolling out new cars for the Metra Electric Line and renovated cars for our diesel lines. Major projects such as the UP North bridge work, the Englewood flyover bridge and station rehabilitations remain on track.

We've launched marketing campaigns to increase ridership and inform our customers about transit benefits programs, and last month we partnered with NBC 5 in a back-to-school school supply drive. We carried out another successful school safety poster contest and are getting ready to launch the next one.

We have increased advertising revenue by 34 percent and we have developed new advertising products. And we are operating under budget for the year so far.

In addition, Metra wants to enhance the riding experience by continuing to explore such things as wi-fi, an improved train tracker and integration with the CTA's Ventra fare card, among other things. And we will work on providing the best customer service possible.

I certainly will not argue that Metra is without challenges. Perhaps the biggest challenge, and one that will affect many of our plans, is our need for about $9.7 billion over the next decade to achieve a state of good repair. We expect to receive about a fourth of that amount from traditional sources.

I will argue, however, that Metra has a solid team in place to meet those challenges, and that we are fully committed to doing everything within our means to do so. Our riders, and the public, deserve no less.

• Don Orseno is Metra's interim executive director.

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