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Article updated: 2/7/2014 2:30 PM

Lawmakers want Metra delays addressed

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By Marty Hobe

Concerned about Metra's performance on frigid days this winter as well as other issues plaguing the agency, suburban lawmakers say they want to see changes at the country's second largest commuter rail system.

"We want to make sure that the trains run on time and people aren't put out on cold platforms in subzero temperatures," said state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican.

Metra riders endured a tough January with multiple delays and cancellations, particularly during the so-called polar vortex.

New Metra CEO Donald Orseno was in Springfield earlier this week to attend a transit hearing. Afterward, members of the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee talked about improving cancellation and delay notification procedures, as well as the need for equipment upgrades and replacements. State Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton even raised the idea of looking at fare increases to fund capital improvements.

Orseno, appointed CEO Jan. 31 after serving as interim chief since August, acknowledged the problems with delays and the weather.

"The storms we had, specifically on (Jan.) 6, hurt us pretty bad," Orseno said. "One of the common denominators we heard from our customers was (they want) better communication, and we want to provide that better communication."

On Monday, Orseno, state Rep. Ron Sandack and state Rep. Darlene Senger will gather in Naperville for a public hearing to discuss procedures for notifying customers of service delays and cancellations. It's at 7 p.m. at the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St., Naperville.

State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican, said the railroad needs to do a better job telling commuters when it's having problems "as we continue to live with this polar vortex."

However, Ives, a Wheaton Republican, said the communication problems about delays are "easily solvable," and lawmakers need to focus on Metra's money troubles.

Ives, echoing calls from Orseno, pointed out Metra needs funding to pay for more than $9 billion in upgrades over the next 10 years to replace and update old equipment.

She said she wants to discuss raising fares to help fund the capital Metra needs, but added the state needs to be cautious.

"In an ideal world we would have the users pay for it," Ives said. "We need to look at the fee structure in compared to the value that you're getting."

Orseno said Metra and state officials "need to work together to figure out more positive, steady funding streams."

Reboletti criticized the way Regional Transportation Authority discretionary funds are divided, with the CTA getting "the lion's share."

"Just because Metra serves the suburbs," he said, "it shouldn't be treated any differently."

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