The more complicated, broader one is that starting in the 1970s, and coincidental with greater public sector involvement in running the line, it was re-envisioned and transformed from a real rapid transit line to a “commuter” rail line.It always was a commuter operation, but the geniuses who managed Metra misapprehended the way in which the trunk line could best be used.
And where there was once frequent operation all day, it became very specialized and focused on transporting suburban commuters on a nine-to-five schedule.
In 1946, the main line had service every 40 minutes all day, plus additional peak service. In the ‘70s that increased to every 30 minutes all day, but since 1982 it’s been cut back to once an hour.Perhaps reduced frequencies are a rational response, with Chicago's city center becoming more of a financial district, and less of an all-hours destination. But the way in which the Metra managers scheduled trains to each of the several branches destroyed much of the utility of the line.
It might make sense operationally for off-peak trains on [other Metra routes such as the Union Pacific's three lines or Milwaukee District's two] to all leave at about the bottom of the hour, because a rider can remember to be to [the station] by half-past and make the train, and the lines split immediately beyond the station. It makes less sense on the Electric, where the first branch occurs near the Museum of Science and Industry. Passengers headed to or from McCormick Place, the University of Chicago, or the Museum have a choice of three trains within a few minutes or a wait of the better part of an hour. Dumb idea.It's in the adaptation of the same sort of memory-pattern schedules present on Union Pacific or Milwaukee District lines that the Electric uses some of its value. It's not solely about bestowing favors on suburban riders.
Metra Electric is the only example in the country of a mainline rail line that was once run as rapid transit, and has since been reduced to commuter rail. Bringing back frequent service is restoring past glory, not doing something new—and that’s what I think the political messaging should be. Metra Electric is special, and it doesn’t fit into the paradigm that RTA and Metra have tried to fit it into for the last thirty-five years.It doesn't, but restoring more useful frequencies on the main line isn't as difficult as it looks.