WBEZ | trains http://www.wbez.org/tags/trains Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en After the accident: Metra and pedestrian fatalities http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/170234239%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-Jvys6&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Frequent commuters are all too familiar with the pangs of delays: the groans induced by announcements made over a train intercom, or the confusion created when train or bus operators suggest alternative routes, thanks (or no thanks) to weather, mechanical failures, or backups.</p><p>Chicago-area Metra riders are no strangers to these feelings, but often these delays are brought on by another, more heart-dropping reason: pedestrian accidents and fatalities. It&rsquo;s not uncommon for up to 1,300 Metra riders to be held on a train for more than an hour while investigators gather at the scene to determine what happened.</p><p dir="ltr">And while many wonder why so many of these accidents happen, or how they can be stopped, a Curious Citizen (who chose to remain anonymous) had us consider this question:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>How can a thorough investigation of Metra fatalities be performed when trains are up and running 90 minutes after a fatality?</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s a bit of a loaded question, of course, as our questioner is basically asking whether a 90-minute timeframe is sufficient to gather evidence.</p><p>From the first moment we spoke with the questioner, we knew this would be sensitive topic, for sure, but experts did make themselves available to explain how pedestrian death investigations work, and they were also willing to address the &ldquo;90 minutes&rdquo; figure directly. And the question&rsquo;s important, too. The issue of pedestrian fatalities by train is regularly <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-metra-suicides-met-20140825-story.html" target="_blank">in the Chicago-area news</a>. Also, anyone involved &mdash; a victim&#39;s family,&nbsp;commuters on the train, taxpayers in Illinois &mdash; deserves to know exactly what&rsquo;s going on outside that train once tragedy strikes.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The extent of the problem</span></p><p>Pedestrian fatalities by Metra trains, or any type of train, for that matter, are not new phenomena. Train deaths, both intentional and accidental, have been an issue for rail officials across the world. <a href="http://gazebonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ian_savage_438_manuscript.pdf" target="_blank">But as Northwestern University researcher Ian Savage found out</a>, these incidents are happening in Illinois more than any other place in the United States.</p><p>According to Savage, one of the main reasons is Chicago&rsquo;s position as a national rail hub.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a combination of the number of trains and the geography,&rdquo; Savage said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re fairly flat around here, and if you go out east, you&rsquo;ll find many more hills. Because trains [there] can&rsquo;t get up steep grades, you have to level this out by digging cuts, you make embankments, so you end up with a lot more natural grade separation. And here in Chicago, we have little natural grade separation.&rdquo;</p><p>Savage looked at data from the Illinois Commerce Commission from 2004 to 2012, and accounted for 338 pedestrian deaths by train within the six-county Chicago area. (Notably, Savage&rsquo;s research did not include the Chicago Transit Authority&rsquo;s elevated trains). Put another way, the area saw one pedestrian death by train every 10 days. Approximately 47 percent of the incidents were suicides.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20mockup%203%20final_2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20new%20stats2.png" title="*Data from Chicago metropolitan region, 2004-2012. Note: Does not include CTA data. Non-motorized persons include pedestrians and bike-riders. Source: Ian Savage, Northwestern University " /></div></div><p>According to Savage, these fatalities happen for a variety of reasons. When it comes to accidents, many times people don&rsquo;t understand how dangerous trains really are.</p><p>&ldquo;In some cases, crossings are designed in a way that good people are lead into making bad decisions. And I think that perceptions of speed are very difficult,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;d never think about jaywalking across an interstate because there are cars every few seconds. But there are five, 10 [minutes], half an hour where there&rsquo;s no activity on train tracks. So you can always get led into this cognitive assumption that nothing&rsquo;s coming, when something is.&rdquo;</p><p>And while the complexity of suicide makes it difficult to understand the reasoning behind individual deaths, Savage said the frequency and high number of occurrences is likely connected to the availability of trains around Chicago. Through his research, Savage stumbled on a study from Children&rsquo;s Memorial Hospital that looked at methods of suicide. They found that the use of trains in the Chicago area was more than four times the national average.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Metra-related investigations</span></p><p>Beyond the magnitude of these fatalities, Metra faces another predicament, one that&rsquo;s different from those of state or city agencies: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZrzuzWv2wY" target="_blank">Metra prides itself on its timeliness</a> and its ability to get commuters home on time. Its slogan is &ldquo;The way to really fly,&rdquo; and their signs read phrases such as &ldquo;We&rsquo;re on time, are you?&rdquo;</p><p>So when tragedy strikes, not only do Metra officials have to worry about the victim of the incident, but the thousands of passengers sitting on the train. In our question-asker&rsquo;s case, she read that trains were up and running 90 minutes after her friend was struck. (Metra officials say delays that day &mdash; including residual delays for other trains on that line &mdash; ranged anywhere between 30 and 110 minutes.)</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20photo%201%20LC.jpg" title="Metra signs advertise the agency's ability to arrive places on time, without delay. (WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)" /></div></div><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a process in place, a lot of times there&rsquo;s a lot of different factors that are involved in that incident which may extend that investigation, or there may be a train strike where we hit a pedestrian, and that person ends up being fine,&rdquo; said Hilary Konczal, director of Safety at Metra. &ldquo;I mean, we&rsquo;ve hit people and we&rsquo;ve broken a leg or an arm, and we were up and moving in 20 minutes, so it depends on the situation.&rdquo;</p><p>Konczal said every investigation begins the same way: A dispatcher is immediately notified of anything that happens on Metra railroads or that involves a Metra train. That dispatcher then notifies a control center, which reaches out to the municipality where the incident occurred.</p><p>&ldquo;Normally we get the call first,&rdquo; said Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;ll get it either from people waiting for the train, or someone driving past. And they&rsquo;ll call that someone was struck by a train or someone just jumped in front of a train.&rdquo;</p><p>The local municipality usually arrives on the scene first because of their close proximity. They&rsquo;ll secure the scene, meet with the train crew, and begin to gather witness testimony. Metra also has its own police force. Its officers do their best to get to the scene ASAP, but it could take some time, as the six-county service area is about the size of Connecticut. Once both departments are on scene, one will take the lead.</p><p><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="420" scrolling="no" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/metramap.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em>Metra rail lines cover six counties and more than 110 municipalities. The service area is about the size of the state of Connecticut, which means travel times for investigators and other responders can be sizable.</em></span></p><p>&ldquo;Usually, if Metra police investigate the incident, we can do it a little quicker. We have evidence technicians on scene 24 hours [per day], and a lot of times local municipality doesn&#39;t have that. They have to call them in, so that may add time to investigation,&rdquo; Konczal said.</p><p>Konczal said his staff constantly network with the over 110 municipalities that Metra travels through, so when an incident happens &ldquo;we have a rapport with them, so we can get traffic moving as soon as possible.&rdquo;</p><p>But depending on the type of accident, and how long it takes to gather all the correct people together, investigations can still take a while. Konczal said if Metra strikes a vehicle, federal regulations require that signals be tested, for example.</p><p>In a fatality situation, officials have to report information to the ICC and the Federal Railroad Administration. Almost all Metra trains have cameras on them now, as do some grade crossings, so film has to be reviewed to determine what happened, and to assess whether it was an intentional death or not. They also have to wait for a coroner to arrive, as he or she has to respectfully remove the remains.</p><p>The Metra Police Department was recently assessed by <a href="http://www.hillardheintze.com/books/metrapolicedept_01_23_14/" target="_blank">Hillard Heintze</a>, an independent council of retired police chiefs. While the group <a href="http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140122/news/701229709/" target="_blank">found many issues with the department overall</a> (e.g., unclear mission, ineffective or nonexistent policies and procedures, staffing issues, etc.) the report did not address how Metra conducts fatality investigations.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20investigation%20full.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Metra officials investigate a commuter train accident in 2004 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)" /></p><p>Metra officials say there&rsquo;s no minimum or maximum amount of time that they try and meet for each investigation. Other police departments operate this way as well.</p><p>&ldquo;If there&rsquo;s a fatality, there are no minimums,&rdquo; said Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police Department. &ldquo;The main thing is to get the victims, whether they&rsquo;re dead or hurt. That&rsquo;s the priority.&rdquo;</p><p>Bond said each investigation varies tremendously, depending on the incident: It could be hours, or it could be one hour.</p><p>But what doesn&rsquo;t change per incident, according to Metra officials and police, is the difficulty of dealing with these fatalities, both for him and his staff.</p><p>Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall said his department, like many others around the state, provides mental health services for any officer that responds to traumatic events. Naperville recently dealt with two suicides by train.</p><p>Konczal added that Metra staff take the issue of pedestrian deaths personally. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re people. They may be your brother, my sister, your friend, it&rsquo;s just a shame,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We have employees that go out there. We have the engineer that&rsquo;s traumatized, and the family of the deceased. ... I mean, it&rsquo;s real, and it gets very personal, and at times it gets frustrating.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re constantly looking at ways to educate the public. We&rsquo;re looking at our numbers, the day of the week incidents occur - and it gets frustrating trying to identify how to reduce these risks, without trying to put up some sort of virtual fence. It&rsquo;s just very hard.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Waiting in the wings</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/steven%20vance%20bartlett%20station.jpg" title="Signage at Metra's Bartlett station on the Milwaukee District/West Line route indicates safety precautions for pedestrians crossing the tracks. (Flickr/Steven Vance)" /></p><p>Metra, as well as local law enforcement agencies, suggest that some investigations can take far less than the 90-minute figure that started our look into train-related pedestrian deaths. According to Joe Schwieterman, transportation professor at DePaul University (and Metra rider for 23 years), delays of any kind can be difficult to bear.</p><p>&ldquo;You feel the tension on board right away, people start making phone calls, and after five or ten minutes, you know, you start to wonder, &lsquo;Is this gonna be a nightmare?&rsquo; So that speculation starts,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>According to Schweiterman, everyone in the region has been startled by how a fairly small commuter rail system (in the national sense) has such a regular pattern of hitting people. And a lot of it, he said, isn&rsquo;t on Metra.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a whole series of issues, like willful deaths, and of course just a preponderance of freight trains which makes these crossings very difficult, and even just people dying on the tracks who, you know - drug use along railway tracks - there&rsquo;s a long history of a place where deviants often go.&rdquo;</p><p>But when it comes to whether these investigations are long enough or comprehensive enough, Schwieterman said anything longer than the current delays wouldn&rsquo;t be practical.</p><p>&ldquo;My view is that there&rsquo;s rarely a complex investigation needed,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;When somebody gets hit, the reason that person got hit is important from a data standpoint &mdash; and I mean, of course, for the family it&rsquo;s an absolute travesty &mdash; but from an investigation standpoint we need to know why people are getting hit and how we can fix the problems.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;But it&rsquo;s not like a crime scene, where there&rsquo;s an assailant out there who we have to find, and he may have left a clue behind.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>If you or someone you know exhibits any of the <a href="http://reportingonsuicide.org/warning-signs-of-suicide/" target="_blank">warning signs of suicide</a>, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)</strong></p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ Reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p></p> Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 Meet the CTA's super-friendly conductor http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/meet-ctas-super-friendly-conductor-110466 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/157991456&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false; show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&rsquo;s note: The podcast episode available above includes two stories. The first looks at <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453" target="_blank">why Chicago is a transit hub for the Amish</a>. The profile of CTA conductor Michael Powell begins at 7 minutes, 36 seconds.</em></p><p>The idea for Caroline Eichler&rsquo;s Curious City question first came to her in 2011, shortly after she had finished college and first arrived in Chicago. She didn&rsquo;t know anyone except her roommates and co-workers. &ldquo;And this is the first city I&rsquo;ve ever lived in, too,&rdquo; she says. It&rsquo;s little wonder that she felt &mdash; by her own admission &mdash; &ldquo;pretty terrified and overwhelmed.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>One of the first people Caroline came to recognize in the city was the voice of a certain chatty train conductor during her commute on the CTA&rsquo;s Red Line from Rogers Park to the Jackson stop downtown. She remembers the conductor reminding passengers to grab their umbrellas if it was raining, or he&rsquo;d jokingly advise passengers to take their children with them when they left the train. &ldquo;One time he said &lsquo;May the force be with you.&rsquo; That really cracked me up,&rdquo; she says. Since Caroline only knew a handful of people in the city, even the more reserved announcements such as &ldquo;I hope you&rsquo;re having a great day!&rdquo; were really nice, she says.</p><p>All of this interest in a comforting voice led Caroline to send us this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Who is the super-friendly train conductor on the Red Line?</em></p><p>While tracking down an answer, we learned that the man behind the kind words used the daily commute to comfort himself, too.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&lsquo;I just started talking&rsquo;</span></p><p>The conductor is Michael Powell, who began working for the CTA in 1978. Getting a job with the CTA was &ldquo;like a dream come true,&rdquo; Powell says. He&rsquo;s always loved trains, and he even had toy trains when he was growing up.</p><p>Talking over the train&rsquo;s PA system came naturally to Powell. &ldquo;I just started talking,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s spur of the moment, I really don&rsquo;t rehearse them. If it feels like I can say something silly or something half-serious, I&rsquo;ll say it.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell is not shy about sharing difficulties he had early in life. The oldest of four children, Powell says his mother &ldquo;had a rough time raising four children, not having a college degree or any education formally.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I could never make her happy,&rdquo; Powell remembers. &ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t like myself because I didn&rsquo;t get any compliments.&rdquo; Eventually Powell went to counseling. &ldquo;I just had to get over my fear or rejection, I think that&rsquo;s everybody&rsquo;s problem,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;When I started getting attention from the train it was like: Hey, I&rsquo;m getting the love or the attention that I didn&rsquo;t have growing up.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell&rsquo;s philosophy about relating to the passengers is straightforward. &ldquo;I just try to make everybody feel good,&rdquo; he says. Knowing people aren&rsquo;t always happy to be on their way to work, he would sometimes give a morning pep talk. &ldquo;Some people feel like they&rsquo;re down in the dumps. They&rsquo;re like &lsquo;Wow-wee, I had to come to work today.&rsquo; And I sometimes say, Yeah, you know, it would be nice to stay home today, but we have to work. What&rsquo;s for dinner tonight? Make sure you have everything with you! Just, you know, look on the bright side of life,&rdquo; he says.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MichaelPowell%20for%20WEB.jpg" title="Michael Powell, a CTA conductor for 36 years, was known by commuters for his cheerful quips. (Photo courtesy Katie Klocksin)" /></p><p>Over the years Powell has made an impact on his passengers, and he&rsquo;s been written about many times. When I first introduce him to Caroline, he presents a large binder full of his press clippings, print-outs of mostly-positive comment threads on articles featuring him, cards passengers had sent him, and comments people sent to the CTA. Caroline says she&rsquo;s impressed with how much Michael&rsquo;s comments resonated with people &mdash; enough that many people actually wrote to the CTA with positive feedback.</p><p>&ldquo;He brings out a good side of Chicago,&rdquo; she says.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">End of an era</span></p><p>Fans of Powell and his conversational style as a train conductor may be disappointed to learn that he retired at the end of 2013. He still spends time with a group of friends he calls &ldquo;train club.&rdquo; They get together once a week for breakfast, and they also run model trains and watch train movies together. Michael also became a grandfather this May. He misses seeing his passengers every day, &ldquo;yet it&rsquo;s nice to be a grandfather. It&rsquo;s nice to spend more time at home,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Caroline asked Powell if he had a fantasy train he&rsquo;d like to drive. &nbsp;&ldquo;Not really,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I feel like I&rsquo;ve done enough driving in my life. Let someone else do the driving.&rdquo;</p><p>As their time together ends, Caroline tells him: &ldquo;The Red Line community of train riders will miss you.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ll miss them too,&rdquo; he replies. &ldquo;I had fun.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Caroline%20Re-Touch%20for%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 242px; width: 200px;" title="Caroline Eichler, who asked about the super-friendly Red Line conductor. (Photo courtesy Caroline Eichler)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">Our question comes from: Caroline Eichler</span></p><p>Caroline Eichler moved to Chicago in 2011, after graduating from Kenyon College. She quickly noticed Michael Powell&rsquo;s distinctive style on the Red Line&rsquo;s train announcements.</p><p>&ldquo;He was one of the first people in city I&rsquo;d recognize,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t even see him, I would just would know he was there from his voice.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell was a topic of conversation among her roommates as well. They would text each other when they caught Powell&rsquo;s train on their morning or evening commutes. &ldquo;I think I&rsquo;m the most excited about it, but we&rsquo;re all in on it together,&rdquo; Caroline says.</p><p>After three years, Caroline is more settled in the city; she&rsquo;s involved in several musical endeavors, including working as the Music Librarian for the <a href="http://cso.org/Institute/CivicOrchestra/Default.aspx" target="_blank">Civic Orchestra of Chicago</a>. She&rsquo;s also a violinist, and she sings with the vocal ensemble <a href="http://www.lacaccina.com/" target="_blank">La Caccina</a>.</p><p><em>A <a href="http://chirpradio.org/podcasts/person-of-interest-michael-powell" target="_blank">version of this story </a>originally aired on ChirpRadio.org. Katie Klocksin is a freelance radio producer. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieKlocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 09 Jul 2014 12:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/meet-ctas-super-friendly-conductor-110466 Final phase of Ventra rollout suspended, developer apologizes http://www.wbez.org/news/final-phase-ventra-rollout-suspended-developer-apologizes-109094 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Ventra.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Chicago commuters will be able to hold on to those old Chicago Cards and magnetic strip cards for a little while longer. Chicago Transit Authority officials announced the the final phase of the new <a href="http://ventrachicago.com/">Ventra </a>system&rsquo;s rollout will be suspended until a few of its problems are fixed. Chicago Cards and Chicago Card Plus were supposed to be phased out by November 15.</p><p dir="ltr">CTA President Forrest Claypool also said the agency won&rsquo;t pay the developer, Cubic Transportation Systems, any of the $454 million, 12-year contract, until the company meets three criterion: customer service wait times must be five minutes or less, processing times for the tap-and-go function of a Ventra card must be under two and a half seconds--99 percent of the time--and all readers and vending machines must be operational 99 percent of the time.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The bottom line is that too many of our customers are confused and frustrated and that&rsquo;s our fault,&rdquo; Claypool told members of the City Club at a luncheon Tuesday.</p><p dir="ltr">Cubic&rsquo;s head of North American operations, Richard Wunderle, was on hand to answer some questions as well.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;This transition period wasn&rsquo;t our shining light, and for that I want to apologize to the riders of CTA,&rdquo; said Wunderle. &ldquo;It wasn&rsquo;t our best effort but it will get better, so I apologize for that.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Cubic isn&rsquo;t new to the public transit game: They&rsquo;ve got 400 fare-collection projects in operation across the world, including systems in Sydney, London and Washington, D.C. But the Ventra system marks the first time the company&rsquo;s tackled an open-fare, contactless card system; and officials say it&rsquo;s the first of its kind in North America.</p><p dir="ltr">Wunderle said Cubic engineers are already at work on a number of fixes to get things up to speed.</p><p dir="ltr">One issue that&rsquo;s drawn many complaints from CTA riders is being charged for multiple taps of their Ventra card at the turnstile. Officials say customers would tap their card, and after not immediately seeing a green &ldquo;Go&rdquo; signal, they&rsquo;d tap multiple times or move to a different lane. As of Tuesday, Cubic said they added a new &ldquo;processing&rdquo; screen to show riders the system is working before it lets them through. Engineers will also be upgrading the Ventra software over the weekend to try and bring processing times down on card readers to two-and-a-half seconds or less. CTA officials said that&rsquo;s happening 95 percent of the time--but the other 5 percent of the time, processing times varied from three to 10 seconds, sometimes more.</p><p dir="ltr">Claypool said the issue that&rsquo;s upset him the most is the long wait times for callers trying to reach a customer service agent, calling it a &ldquo;self-inflicted wound.&rdquo; The CTA chief said on one day last month, the center was overwhelmed with 20,000 calls. Some customers couldn&rsquo;t get through to an agent at all, while others waited, and waited - in some cases, for more than 30 minutes. Cubic has hired more customer service agents since then, and plans to expand further.</p><p dir="ltr">No timeline has been set for when the Ventra rollout will continue. Wunderle said he can&rsquo;t really give a &ldquo;best guess&rdquo; how long it will take the company to address the CTA&rsquo;s three benchmarks, only estimating &ldquo;weeks&rdquo; when pressed by a reporter.</p><p dir="ltr">Other interesting Ventra facts:</p><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">The entire Ventra contract lasts 12 years: The two years allotted for engineering the system are almost up. The next 10 years of the contract will be for the service.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">Cubic paid $92 million up front toward the transition: installing card readers, vending machines, call center operations, etc.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">CTA lawyers will be looking into how many fares they&rsquo;ve missed because of bus drivers waving people through when there seemed to be problems with the Ventra card</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">50 percent of CTA riders are now using Ventra cards</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">Card readers will now display a &ldquo;low balance&rdquo; screen that lets customers know their Ventra card balance is under $10</p></li></ul><p dir="ltr"><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 06 Nov 2013 13:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/final-phase-ventra-rollout-suspended-developer-apologizes-109094 From the archives: LaHood says 'no stopping' high speed rail http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/archives-lahood-says-no-stopping-high-speed-rail-105724 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/high%20speed%20rail%20quinn%20lahood%20AP%20small.jpg" style="height: 460px; width: 620px;" title="Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, left, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, on a high speed rail test run in October of 2012. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast, file)" /></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F77461272&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that he would <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/transportation-secretary-ray-lahood-leave-administration-105193">leave his post in the Obama administration</a> earlier this week. &quot;I have had a good run,&rdquo; the former Illinois Congressman and Peoria native told the Associated Press. &ldquo;I&#39;m one of these people who believe that you should go out while they&#39;re applauding.&rdquo;</p><p>During his tenure in Washington, LaHood struggled with Congress to pass funding for major infrastructure projects, and eventually compromised with them on a two-year plan, dubbed <a href="http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/map21/">MAP 21</a>, that gave states more flexibility in spending federal dollars. He also brought greater attention to hazards like <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ray-lahood/distracted-driving-a-dead_b_555810.html">distracted driving</a>, and tried to put <a href="http://www.wired.com/autopia/2010/03/lahood-policy-statement/">pedestrians and cyclists on equal footing with drivers</a>, earning him accolades from many alternative transportation advocates.</p><p>But one of LaHood&rsquo;s biggest efforts was his promotion of high speed rail. At an urban policy forum held in Chicago in December, LaHood told the audience that &ldquo;every generation does something big for the next generation,&rdquo; and that high speed rail would be our generation&rsquo;s gift to the next.</p><p>In <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/29/ray-lahood-interview-high-speed-rail_n_2576995.html">an exit interview with the <em>Huffington Post</em></a>, LaHood admitted that he felt behind on this quest, but insisted that he and his administration had still &ldquo;come a long way.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;As long as President Obama is in the White House, whoever sits in this chair will have high-speed rail as one of their top priorities,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>You can take a closer listen to LaHood&rsquo;s earlier remarks on high speed rail &ndash; and his insistence at its inevitability &ndash; in the audio above.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range">Dynamic Range</a></em>&nbsp;<em>showcases hidden gems unearthed from </em><em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/chicago-amplified/a-conversation-with-u-s"><em>Chicago Amplified&rsquo;s</em></a></em><em> vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Ray LaHood spoke at an event presented at the UIC Urban Forum in December of 2012. He was interviewed by Steve Schlickman, Executive Director of the UIC Urban Transportation Center. Click</em>&nbsp;<em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/chicago-amplified/a-conversation-with-u-s">here</a>&nbsp;to hear the event in its entirety.</em></p></p> Mon, 25 Feb 2013 10:12:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/archives-lahood-says-no-stopping-high-speed-rail-105724 From the archives: LaHood says 'no stopping' high speed rail http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/archives-lahood-says-no-stopping-high-speed-rail-105308 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/high%20speed%20rail%20quinn%20lahood%20AP%20small.jpg" style="height: 460px; width: 620px;" title="Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, left, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, on a high speed rail test run in October of 2012. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast, file)" /></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F77461272&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that he would <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/transportation-secretary-ray-lahood-leave-administration-105193">leave his post in the Obama administration</a> earlier this week. &quot;I have had a good run,&rdquo; the former Illinois Congressman and Peoria native told the Associated Press. &ldquo;I&#39;m one of these people who believe that you should go out while they&#39;re applauding.&rdquo;</p><p>During his tenure in Washington, LaHood struggled with Congress to pass funding for major infrastructure projects, and eventually compromised with them on a two-year plan, dubbed <a href="http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/map21/">MAP 21</a>, that gave states more flexibility in spending federal dollars. He also brought greater attention to hazards like <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ray-lahood/distracted-driving-a-dead_b_555810.html">distracted driving</a>, and tried to put <a href="http://www.wired.com/autopia/2010/03/lahood-policy-statement/">pedestrians and cyclists on equal footing with drivers</a>, earning him accolades from many alternative transportation advocates.</p><p>But one of LaHood&rsquo;s biggest efforts was his promotion of high speed rail. At an urban policy forum held in Chicago in December, LaHood told the audience that &ldquo;every generation does something big for the next generation,&rdquo; and that high speed rail would be our generation&rsquo;s gift to the next.</p><p>In <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/29/ray-lahood-interview-high-speed-rail_n_2576995.html">an exit interview with the <em>Huffington Post</em></a>, LaHood admitted that he felt behind on this quest, but insisted that he and his administration had still &ldquo;come a long way.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;As long as President Obama is in the White House, whoever sits in this chair will have high-speed rail as one of their top priorities,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>You can take a closer listen to LaHood&rsquo;s earlier remarks on high speed rail &ndash; and his insistence at its inevitability &ndash; in the audio above.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range">Dynamic Range</a></em>&nbsp;<em>showcases hidden gems unearthed from </em><em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/chicago-amplified/a-conversation-with-u-s"><em>Chicago Amplified&rsquo;s</em></a></em><em> vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Ray LaHood spoke at an event presented at the UIC Urban Forum in December of 2012. He was interviewed by Steve Schlickman, Executive Director of the UIC Urban Transportation Center. Click</em>&nbsp;<em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/chicago-amplified/a-conversation-with-u-s">here</a>&nbsp;to hear the event in its entirety.</em></p></p> Sat, 02 Feb 2013 08:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/archives-lahood-says-no-stopping-high-speed-rail-105308 More rail work planned between Chicago, St. Louis http://www.wbez.org/news/more-rail-work-planned-between-chicago-st-louis-100054 <p><p>Rail upgrades needed for faster train journeys between Chicago and St. Louis will start north of Bloomington this weekend.</p><p>Work on part of the Amtrak route in the region will begin Saturday.</p><p>Improvements will include new premium rail with concrete ties and stone ballast. Upgrades will also be made to bridges, culverts and drainage.</p><p>The disruption will require chartered buses and connecting Amtrak train service for passengers on the Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle.</p><p>The work is to make way for an increase in speed to 110 mph from the current 79 mph.</p><p>The Illinois Department of Transportation plans to preview the higher speeds in September along a short section from Pontiac to Dwight.</p></p> Wed, 13 Jun 2012 09:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/more-rail-work-planned-between-chicago-st-louis-100054 Photos: Chicago's trains get an upgrade; Check out CTA's new 'L' cars http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/2011-11-09/photos-chicagos-trains-get-upgrade-check-out-ctas-new-l-cars-93906 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-09/6327130654_9ab20bf058_b.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>On Tuesday, the Chicago Transit Authority says more than 700 new rail cars are being added to the city's "L" trains.</p><p>WBEZ's <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/cta-start-installing-new-rail-cars-el-trains-93871">Michell Elloy reported </a>on Wednesday, that the new, more energy-efficient 5000 series rail cars will have wider aisle, sideways seating and LED maps.&nbsp;The new cars will also be equipped with security cameras that will transmit video to CTA's control center, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications and the Chicago Police Department.</p><p>The CTA <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ctaweb/">posted photos</a> of the new 5000 series rail cars that commuters can look forward to.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6211/6327129938_9342999d0f_z.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 334px;" title="(Flickr/cta web)"></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6106/6327128684_2e7e142d92_z.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 401px;" title="(Flickr/cta web)"></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6040/6327130654_9ab20bf058_z.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 400px;" title="(Flickr/cta web)"></p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6240/6327127180_1386e30059_z.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 401px;" title="(Flickr/cta web)"></p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6057/6327126482_cab71dcb54_z.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 403px;" title="(Flickr/cta wb)"></p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6105/6326374121_a2c6442791_z.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 401px;" title="(Flickr/cta web)"></p></p> Wed, 09 Nov 2011 18:26:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/2011-11-09/photos-chicagos-trains-get-upgrade-check-out-ctas-new-l-cars-93906 Englewood Flyover to take aim at rail congestion http://www.wbez.org/story/englewood-flyover-take-aim-rail-congestion-93015 <p><p>A project aimed with halting one of the region’s worst rail logjams broke ground Monday on Chicago’s South Side.</p><p>The so-called Englewood Flyover will cost $133 million. Organizers hope it will ease congestion near 63<sup>rd</sup> and State Street, an area that sees an average of 14 Amtrak, 78 Metra and 46 freight trains battle for space each day.</p><p>The Englewood Flyover will build a bridge to carry the three Metra Rock Island District Line tracks over the four Norfolk-Southern freight tracks. The bridge — to be completed by 2014 — will also allow for expanded Amtrak service around the Midwest.</p><p>Several politicians gathered near the flyover site on Monday morning. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the project will create 1,500 jobs.</p><p>“What does it mean when freight traffic and passenger traffic can move through this city more quickly? More jobs. Not just the jobs in building this project but the reputation of Illinois as the crossroads of the nation,” Durbin said.</p><p>The funding sources include $126 million from the federal government and more than $6 million from the state’s Illinois Jobs Now program. The Englewood Flyover is also part of the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (<a href="http://createprogram.org/">CREATE</a>,) an effort that is supposed to modernize local rail operations, reduce harmful emissions and ease highway congestion.</p><p>Nearby resident Bob Israel, a union laborer, showed up at the groundbreaking with skepticism.</p><p>“It’s just a dog-and-pony show — trust me,” Israel said.</p><p>“We’ve been hearing about this CREATE program for 10-15 years. They say they’re going to hire from the community but I’ve been hearing this for years,” Israel said. He likened it to the Dan Ryan Expressway project, which Israel said didn’t do a good job of community hiring.</p><p>At the press conference, Israel asked Quinn who would ensure that the Englewood Flyover project would employ community residents.</p><p>Quinn didn’t give an answer.</p></p> Mon, 10 Oct 2011 18:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/englewood-flyover-take-aim-rail-congestion-93015 Transit union fights back against CTA budget claims http://www.wbez.org/story/transit-union-fights-back-against-cta-budget-claims-92825 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-October/2011-10-04/cta trains_flickr_mikemiley.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The head of the union representing Chicago Transit Authority rail workers says he doesn't believe union members are completely to blame for CTA budget problems.</p><p>CTA president Forrest Claypool <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/cta-facing-huge-budget-shortfall-2012-92812">said Tuesday</a> that the agency is short $277 million heading into 2012, due to union contracts he said give workers the highest cost-adjusted salaries in the nation.</p><p>"I have openly said I will sit down and talk about any and every issue and put it on the table," said ATU Local 308 president Robert Kelly. "Doesn't mean we're going to give it up, but we'll talk about it, we'll see what we can do to help. I understand today's economy, I know it's bad out there. But fighting this in the media is not going to be a winning situation for anybody."</p><p>Claypool also criticized the employee absenteeism rates, which he said cost the CTA $40 million in 2011. But Kelly refuted that the number could be that large, and said he was disappointed that he hadn't been told about the CTA's interest in changing work rules.</p><p>"We do not deny there is an absenteesm problem, we can't control that," said Kelly. But, "We do not hire people. Chicago Transit Authority hires individuals."</p><p>Kelly said he believes he fare hikes are "inevitable"; Claypool wouldn't say whether they should be expected.&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 05 Oct 2011 10:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/transit-union-fights-back-against-cta-budget-claims-92825 Metra begins probe into train pollution levels http://www.wbez.org/story/diesel-soot/metra-begins-investigation-pollution-levels-trains <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/cityroom_20100917_ssmith_148532_Metr_large.png" alt="" /><p><p>Metra has hired an independent firm to check out the air quality on its trains and at Ogilvie Transportation Center. That comes after a report showing diesel soot levels on some trains are extremely high.</p><p>Metra at this point is just conducting its own tests to confirm what the Chicago Tribune found: that passengers were inhaling high levels of diesel soot, particulates in the air from diesel engines, at certain points along train routes. Also, the pollution levels were bad in the Ogilvie train station where trains may sit idling for hours.</p><p>Metra's investigation comes after U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called on the Environmental Protection Agency to look into the pollution levels. Durbin told reporters Metra recently received grant money that would cut down on the amount of idle time.</p><p>Diesel soot can aggravate asthma and has been traced to cancer.<br /><br />&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 10 Nov 2010 13:11:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/diesel-soot/metra-begins-investigation-pollution-levels-trains