Drunks on your train? Here's what Metra can do about it
Whether it's tipsy teens headed to Lollapalooza or surly drunks on St. Patrick's Day, many Metra passengers will find themselves riding in unofficial bar cars from time to time.
The undesirables range from minors sipping suspicious liquids in plastic cups to regulars quaffing brews to the Saturnalia of a throng of soused sports fans.
"If there are rules about such activity on a train, it would be nice to see Metra do something about it," Milwaukee District West Line commuter Joe Hufford said.
Hufford's seen it all, such as teenagers who "are clearly underage yet are riding while obviously drunk. Many bring water bottles that have been refilled with clear alcohol."
Then there are groups of regulars who empty a few bottles of wine or a 12-pack of beer while on board. "These riders get louder and more obnoxious with every stop," Hufford said.
Asked about the concerns, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said Friday, "we do lot of things to reduce incidents, most of which happen on a few busy weekends such as Lollapalooza or St. Patrick's Day. We ban alcohol on those busy weekends."
Metra started a new police squad in March 2016 whose priority is to patrol trains, provide a visible police presence, discourage crime and keep riders and crew members safer, Gillis said.
"In cases where patrons are extremely disorderly or threatening, we can and do refuse to let them board, and conductors can and do summon police if they are extremely disorderly or threatening onboard the trains. In cases where someone is extremely intoxicated and incapacitated, we can and do seek medical attention."
The issue of minors consuming alcohol got the attention of Metra Director Steve Palmer of LaGrange, who asked at a May meeting, "Are we checking IDs on people we see drinking on trains, and writing tickets?"
"We do enforce underage drinking when we come across it," Chief Joseph Perez said.
But Gillis noted, "we can do no more than any other public entity. Our police officers don't have a constitutional right to search containers without probable cause, and neither do our conductors."
"For us to walk up and say: 'Give me your ID. We want to see if you're old enough to drink.' We cannot do that," Perez said.
The railroad has began placing posters in trains educating parents and minors about drug and alcohol abuse.
David Keating, a regular BNSF commuter from Aurora to Chicago, finds that while riding home "other than reeking of alcohol at times, (train drinkers) actually are not that bad normally, especially if there are kids on the train." He's encountered more "obnoxiousness" on trains into Chicago during festival season.
Got an opinion on drunks on trains? Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You should know
Here's a recap of Metra's alcohol policies. Anyone 21 and older can drink on trains, except at times prohibited by Metra. Alcohol bans can last all day as in the case of St. Patrick's Day parades and this weekend's Air and Water Show. At events like Lollapalooza, the Blues Fest, and Taste of Chicago, alcohol is restricted after 7 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and prohibited all day Saturdays and Sundays.
And as for official bar cars? Metra eliminated its last ones in 2008.
The bad news keeps coming. The Illinois Department of Transportation is closing lanes on southbound I-290/Route 53 between Higgins Road and the Jane Addams Tollway (I-290) for bridge work. Two express lanes and one local lane will be open. The project wraps up in late fall.
Also, steer clear of Busse Road over Prairie Creek in Des Plaines starting Monday when traffic is reduced to one lane in each direction through late October for bridge repairs.
Get money for safety
Got a street or crossing that's hazardous for kids on their way to school? IDOT is looking for project ideas from school districts and local governments for the Safe Routes to School Program. Successful applicants will receive funding for improvements such as new sidewalks and speeding deterrents. Apply between Sept. 24 and Nov. 19. For info, go to dot.illinois.gov/transportation-system/local-transportation-partners/county-engineers-and-local-public-agencies/safe-routes-to-school.
Thanks to everyone who responded to the column on IDOT's funky new digital message signs with slogans of their own. Here's a sampling. From Dan Quiery of Arlington Heights: "Wave. You may be on camera." From reader Bob Thomas of Wheeling: "Cops prefer doughnuts over tickets. Slow down."
Recent messages on tollway signs proclaimed, "No speeding, No texting, No ketchup" in a nod to Chicago hot dog condiment tradition.