Arlington Heights trustees, commuters rail against Metra for cutting express trains

Arlington Heights trustees and commuters railed against Metra officials Tuesday night for cutting express trains to and from their town, which has the biggest ridership along the Union Pacific Northwest Line.

The feedback came during a village board meeting, after two staffers from the commuter rail agency's scheduling department explained recent changes to the timetable.

“I think especially when we are the largest ridership, and the Arlington Heights station not to have an express train, is something that I'll just say is very disappointing,” said Trustee Robin LaBedz, a regular commuter to downtown Chicago. “Even at least one in the morning and one in the evening. ... Sometimes an extra three or four minutes shaved off of your commuting times might make all the difference when you're able to maybe pick up your kid from day care or get home to go to the PTA meeting or see your kids in their sports or something like that.”

The revised schedule went into effect in April, with another tweak made a month later, as the agency tries to respond to changing ridership and hybrid work patterns at downtown offices coming out of the pandemic. The new design is based off a three-zone pattern that repeats every half-hour, with the goal to keep loads balanced and avoid crowding, officials said.

But it also means in nearby Palatine, which has the next-highest ridership on the Northwest line, there's four weekday express train departures and four coming back home in the evening.

Adding another stop or two down the line could make trains too crowded, said Michelle Dolnik, a Metra scheduler and service designer. But Metra will continue to observe passenger counts daily and review commuter feedback online, and future adjustments are likely, she said.

“We just aren't going with something and sticking with it for three decades like in the past,” Dolnik said.

Village trustees and residents who spoke at the meeting sought stronger guarantees.

“I'm going to speak a little bit more sterner than Trustee LaBedz and say I'm more than disappointed. I'm upset,” said Trustee Jim Bertucci. “And I don't take the train. But I represent the residents of Arlington Heights and I've gotten a lot of calls and have been asked by a lot of them to speak to you sternly.”

“I'm going to speak frankly: Is Arlington Heights going to get some express trains inbound and outbound?” Bertucci asked Daniel Miodonski, Metra's manager of service design.

“I don't want to give any expectations that we can't fulfill, but it's something that we're looking at absolutely studying,” Miodonski responded.

He noted that there are trains that run express between Des Plaines and downtown, with only three more stops to get to Arlington Heights.

Cari Miller, manager of development operations at St. Viator High School, said the new schedule has affected student arrival times. On one hand, students commuting from the west can get to school on time, but those coming from the east are either an hour early or 10 minutes late to school.

As a result, now only 3% of the student body uses Metra, whereas it was 10% before the pandemic, Miller said.

Cary Wolovick, a daily commuter, said the elimination of express service has become a quality-of-life issue. He says he now has to wake up at 5:30 a.m. — a half-hour earlier — then drive from the north side of Arlington Heights to the train station to catch the 6:59 a.m. train. It's supposed to get him to his job downtown before 8 a.m. but it's often late, he said.

“We are asking for some accountability for our loyalty to your service, especially during COVID,” Wolovick said.

Attention, Metra passengers: More trains coming this spring as agency tweaks schedules

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