Metra (officially the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation) is Chicagoland's commuter rail system, serving over 200 stations on eleven lines across the Regional Transportation Authority's six-county service area (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will Counties).
The RTA was formed in a March 1973 referendum to provide financial support from local and county governments to railroads providing commuter service between Chicago and its suburbs. Purchase of service contracts with all the railroads operating commuter service in the area were signed in 1976. In the wake of the 1980 bankruptcy and liquidation of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, the RTA also inherited ownership and operational responsibilities of that railroad's commuter operations (known today as Metra's Rock Island District) in 1982. That same year it also leased the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad's (Milwaukee Road) lines, now the Milwaukee District/West Line and Milwaukee District/North Line (it bought the lines in 1985).
The RTA Amendatory Act of 1983 created the current organization, with three management boards for the Chicago area's public transit - the CTA for city rapid transit and buses, Pace for suburban buses, and Metra for suburban rail. The Metra service mark, short for Metropolitan Rail, was adopted in 1984.
Metra has since acquired the operations of the Metra Electric Line (1987), Heritage Corridor (also 1987) and SouthWest Service (1993). In 1996 it began operating the North Central Service over a line of the Wisconsin Central Transportation Corporation, now part of the Canadian National Railway. Commuter service had previously been operated on that line by the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railway, ending by 1971.
Metra's other lines are still operated by the freight railroads that own the trackage. The Union Pacific Railroad operates three ex-Chicago and North Western Railway lines - the Union Pacific/North Line, Union Pacific/Northwest Line and Union Pacific/West Line. The other line, the BNSF Railway Line, is operated by the BNSF Railway.
Commuter service in Chicagoland is also provided by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District's South Shore Line to South Bend, Indiana, one of only a few remaining interurban streetcar lines in the U.S. After 1971, one other service was provided into Indiana, Amtrak's Calumet to Valparaiso; Amtrak ended that train in 1991. Amtrak still provides intercity service to Chicago, including frequent Hiawatha service to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, used by some commuters to Chicago.
Lines and stations
Until the 1960s, Chicago had six major intercity terminals. Three of them - Central Station, Dearborn Station and Grand Central Station - are no longer in use by any trains. Metra still uses the other three - LaSalle Street Station, Union Station and the Ogilvie Transportation Center - as well as the Randolph Street Station, a terminal for commuter lines that operated through Central Station.
- Heritage Corridor (Alton Railroad)
- BNSF Railway Line (Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad)
- Milwaukee District/West Line and Milwaukee District/North Line (Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad)
- The ex-Pennsylvania Railroad Calumet commuter service provided by Amtrak to Valparaiso, Indiana until 1991 also operated into Union Station.
Since the 1960s, several other routes have been rerouted into Union Station:
- SouthWest Service (Wabash Railway), moved from Dearborn Station in 1976 by the Norfolk and Western Railway
- North Central Service (Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railway), began operations 1996, sharing trackage with the Milwaukee District/West Line south of Franklin Park
The Ogilvie Transportation Center, originally the Chicago and North Western Terminal, serves the three lines formerly operated by the Chicago and North Western Railway - the Union Pacific/North Line, Union Pacific/Northwest Line and Union Pacific/West Line.
Randolph Street Station serves the ex-Illinois Central Railroad Metra Electric Line, as well as the South Shore Line interurban streetcar service to South Bend, Indiana, operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District.
Despite the State of Illinois's current budget crisis, Metra is planning a vigorous expansion in the coming years. Some of this expansion is already being realized: the Union Pacific/West line to Geneva, Illinois is in the process of being extended to La Fox and Elburn. Metra also plans to extend the McHenry branch of the Union Pacific/Northwest into Johnsburg, and the SouthWest Service line from Orland Park to Manhattan.
Metra also plans to offer new service as well. It recently announced its intention to create a new SouthEast Service line from downtown Chicago to Crete, as well as Metra's first entirely intra-suburban commuter line, the Suburban Transit Access Route, or "STAR" Line, which would operate between Joliet and O'Hare Airport, linking together Metra lines in the western suburbs. Preliminary Engineering has also begun in expanding Metra further north from Kenosha to Milwaukee. Should all go well in cooperation between Wisconsin and Illinois, and should officials in Wisconsin find funding, service hopes to begin before the end of this decade. This new section of Metra would make stops in Milwaukee, and the suburbs of Cudahy,South Milwaukee, Oak Creek,and Caledonia. This extension would also stop in Racine, and Somers, south of the last respective city is the already exisiting stop at Kenosha.
On September 17, 2005, a Metra train from Joliet to Chicago derailed about 5 miles from Chicago, killing two people - Allison Walsh, 38 and Jane Cuthbert, 22 - and injuring approximately 80 others. While the investigation is still proceeding at this time the indications are that the train was traveling at excessive speed, one report stating that the train was moving at more than 60mph over the posted speed limit of 10mph, and this certainly a factor in the accident.