Post-rally commuting crunch means Metra delays, crowding
Metra officials expected the Cubs championship parade and rally would make Friday's commute challenging, and they were right.
Putting every available rail car in service wasn't enough to stave off delays and ease crowding caused by hundreds of thousands of fans who wanted to be part of the historic celebration.
The throngs using the commuter rail service may have set a new ridership record.
Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile said it is likely that trains moved more than 420,000 people.
"We expect it to be in the top three. We just don't have the final tally yet," she said.
The current record was set July 3, 2007, when 430,488 people rode Metra to get to and from Chicago's fireworks show in Grant Park, among other travel destinations. Second place belongs to the Blackhawks championship rally on June 28, 2013. That day, 425,241 people rode Metra.
With trains to and from Chicago packed to capacity throughout Friday, railroad officials expect the day's ridership will at least hit the No. 2 slot.
"We certainly expect this to be one of the busiest, if not the busiest, days in Metra history," spokesman Michael Gillis said.
A ridership total for the day should be available next week. But anyone who rode Metra on Friday knows train cars were full.
Some riders registered complaints about fully loaded trains not moving late in the afternoon and other passengers drinking on the trains.
In response, Reile said: "Our trains and our downtown stations were extremely crowded this afternoon. Did everything work perfectly? Probably not. But on less than 24 hours' notice to call in crews, to call in security, I think we did a pretty good job."
She said trains were sitting because they needed to wait until they had clear signals to proceed.
She said there were no major incidents, adding that when alcohol was found, it was confiscated.
People rode into the city in waves. Things really got uncomfortable in the afternoon when all those Cubs fans -- and the usual Metra commuters -- tried to head home together.
After the rally ended, the entrances to Union Station nearest the Chicago River were closed and Cubs fans and regular commuters alike were funneled by the thousands to the iconic Great Hall. There, they waited to hear announcements about boarding trains.
"We're using all available equipment to get people home; we just don't have enough to immediately accommodate everyone after the rally," Gillis said. "It is going to take a while to get everyone out."
Metra sent out alerts in the afternoon that its downtown stations were "very crowded." It urged people to consider spending some time "enjoying the beautiful weather and all that Chicago has to offer."
Peter Garrigues, a Downers Grove commuter, said he doesn't remember the crowd being this large for the Blackhawks, Bulls or White Sox.
"Every couple minutes a train will arrive, there will be a big cheer, and the crowd will move a couple feet and then stop," Garrigues said. "I'm just going to wait and then if I wait too long, I'm just going to get dinner somewhere."
Still, Garrigues and others were taking the commute in stride.
"I should have taken the day off," he said with a laugh.
Crowds at Union and Ogilvie were at normal levels by 5:31 p.m., Metra reported.
Regular Metra riders vented their frustration with the crowds and noise on Twitter under #MetraRallySurvivors2016. Common complaints: rowdy Cubs fans, delays, and more rowdy Cubs fans.
Moods were a little lighter for the morning train rides into the city.
The Arlington Heights Metra station could have been mistaken for a Cubs fan convention. Folks wearing Cubbie Blue -- whether on hats, jerseys, T-shirts or hoodies -- vastly outnumbered the commuters headed into the city for work or other business.
"Chicago is going to be crazy fun today," said Megan Martin of Arlington Heights, who took the day off from Rolling Meadows High School to enjoy the parade.
Martin was joined by several friends who also skipped school to catch the celebration.
"I'm missing a math quiz and a human physiology lab for this," said Jillian Palmer, another Rolling Meadows student from Arlington Heights. "But it's OK. You can make up labs, but you can't make up history."
• Daily Herald staff writers Lee Filas and Doug T. Graham contributed to this report.