Metra today unveiled a proposed revision of the Rock Island Line schedule that includes changes necessary for the new Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system, as well as some service enhancements such as new express trains. The proposed new schedule can be viewed here. The current schedule is here.
Metra is no longer accepting feedback about the proposal. We may revise the proposal based on feedback received before Oct. 31, with a goal of implementing the new schedule in January.
PTC is a federally mandated safety system that will automatically stop a train if the engineer fails to obey a signal or exceeds the speed limit. The system integrates GPS, trackside sensors and communications units, onboard computers and Metra’s centralized train dispatching system. Together, these components track trains and monitor the crew’s compliance with speed restrictions and signals. Although it can’t prevent all accidents, PTC increases safety by preventing train-to-train collisions, unauthorized entry by trains into work zones and derailments due to speeding or moving through misaligned track switches.
Under PTC, the crew of a train must initialize the system before each individual run. This includes entering information about the size and makeup of the train (because its weight affects its stopping distance) and any other details about conditions along the route (such as work zones or speed restrictions) that could affect the safe operation of the train. The initialization process is expected to take about six minutes.
To handle as many passengers as it does during the morning rush period, Metra must quickly turn trains around at downtown stations and send them back out to make more inbound trips. The same applies to the evening rush period, as trains complete their trips to the suburbs and turn back to pick up more customers downtown. Metra calls this process “flipping” a train, and it will take longer because of PTC.
To flip a train, the engineer must move from the cab car to the locomotive or vice versa, and the crew must clear the train, perform a brake test and conduct a job briefing. With the added task of initializing the PTC system, these “flips” are expected to take more than 10 minutes, so the schedule of about a dozen trains must be adjusted, and those changes, in turn, will affect other trains on the schedule. Click here to watch a video explaining the need for changes.
In addition to the PTC-related adjustments, there are a number of other proposed schedule changes. On the morning weekday inbound schedule, Metra proposes to add a train that arrives downtown at 5:35 a.m., in response to customers who requested an earlier downtown arrival. Metra also proposes splitting Train 412, which now makes all stops between Joliet and Midlothian, stops at Blue Island/Vermont St. and 35th Street and arrives at LaSalle Street at 8:14 a.m., into two trains. The first would make all stops between Joliet and Tinley Park/80th Avenue and then express downtown, stopping at 35th before arriving at LaSalle Street at 8:08 a.m. The second would originate at Tinley Park (Oak Park Ave.), stop at Oak Forest, Midlothian, Blue Island/Vermont St., 103rd/Washington Heights and 95th/Longwood, arriving downtown at 8:24 a.m.
On the evening weekday outbound schedule, Metra is proposing to split Train 523, which departs LaSalle Street at 6:45 p.m. and makes all stops through the Beverly Branch, into two trains. A new Train 621 would leave LaSalle at 6:40 p.m. and serve the Beverly Branch, and a new Train 423 would leave LaSalle at 7:05 p.m., stop at 35th Street/“Lou” Jones and then express to Blue Island and make all stops to Joliet.
There are also a handful of adjustments to station stops of several trains; please view the proposed new schedule to see if your train or station stop is affected. No major changes are proposed for the weekend schedule, but there could be minor adjustments to station departure times in the final schedule.
Metra is responsible for creating the back office system and installing the equipment on board all Metra trains and along the tracks of the five routes it controls (Metra Electric, Rock Island, SouthWest Service and the Milwaukee District West and North). The freight companies that own the other six lines – BNSF Railway (the BNSF Line), Union Pacific Railroad (the three UP lines) and CN Railroad (Heritage Corridor and North Central Service) – are responsible for the trackside equipment and back offices for those routes.
One of the key features of PTC – and one of its biggest challenges – is that PTC systems must be interoperable between railroads. This means that Metra’s onboard equipment must be able to seamlessly communicate not only with Metra’s trackside and back office components, but with the freight railroads’ trackside and back office components, and vice versa.
PTC is already fully operational on the BNSF Line. UP expects to have PTC operational on its lines starting this year. PTC will start on other Metra lines in 2019 and 2020. Similar schedule changes will be needed on other lines with tight flips as PTC is implemented.