The HP Metra stations and other Metra accommodations and fleet updates; new cars and coffee shops coming

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Platform at night.

Theresa and John McDermott unveil the plaque honoring John A . McDermott, Sr. and the Kenwood Communter's Association

Theresa and John McDermott, Jr. unveil the plaque honoring John A . McDermott, Sr. and the Kenwood Commuter's Association at the refurbished 47th Station. Hyde Park Herald

Dedications were held December 7, Tuesday, 9 and 10 am. At 9 am honor the late John McDermot and the Kenwood Commuters Association which saved the station at 47th Street Metra station: a plaque was unveiled. At 10 am, grand opening celebration for all the revamped Hyde Park sector Metra stations at 53rd Street with plaque unveiling and speeches aplenty. Unfinished touches at the 53rd station were ignored in the relief that the stations were finally done, the work having been envisioned and lobbied for from the mid 1980s on. In many ways, the 47th station with its liberal use of woods, seemed more appealing to this writer. Next? South Shore stations starting; 60th, north of Kenwood, 12th, rest of Randolph. And service increase/universal transfer.

See more about the Lake Park /Metra Corridor rehab/streetscaping in the Lake Park Streetscape-Murals-Viaducts page.

From the dedication of 51t-53rd, 55th-57th stations. (See Herald coverage below)

"On June 1, 1856 the Illinois Central operated the first commuter train in Northeast Illinois between downtown Chicago and the budding community of Hyde Park. Nearly 150 years later, Metra celebrates the latest development in its continuous service to Hyde Park, which is now a thriving center of urban life.

Today, Metra dedicates the reopening of three stations that underwent an aggressive building campaign as part of the $15.8 million Hyde Park Station Project. The old wooden stations at 55th/56th/57th Street and 51st/53rd Street were rebuilt using the latest technology and now features cast composite platforms, brick warming houses and decorative lighting. Both are accessible to people with disabilities. The station at 47th Street underwent a major rehabilitation that included a new staircase and brick headhouse, as well as new platform decking.

Located approximately 6 miles from downtown Chicago, the original stations officially replaced today date back to 1926 when the Illinois Central replaced its steam-powered rail fleet with electric service. Since acquiring the Metra Electric in 1987, the line has seen major tack and signal improvements, overhead wire replacement and rehabilitation of the 1970s-era Highliner fleet. "

Funding sources: Federal Transit Administration, Illinois Department of Transportation, Regional Transportation Authority and Metra.

Construction: John Burns Co., Architect McDonough Associates

Opening Remarks, Larry A. Huggins, Metra board

Invocation Rev. O. C. Morgan, Evening star Missionary Baptist Church

Speakers- Congressman Rush, Rep. Currie, Sen. Raoul, Ald. Preckwinkle, Ald. Hairston. Present also Phil Pagono, Metra Exec. Director

Ribbon cutting and plaque unveiling.


From the dedication of the 47th Station, led by Howard Zar, Kenwood Commuters Association. The Little Station That Could.

The plaque, seen when descending the stairs, unveiled by Theresa McDermott, widow of John McDermott, reads:

"In 1984, John A. McDermott, a Kenwood resident, formed the Kenwood Commuters Association to work with Metra to improve conditions and increase rider-ship at the Kenwood/47th Street Station.

"These efforts were successful, justifying improvements to the station by Metra, completed in 2004, a testament to the willingness of residents and Metra to work together.

"The Kenwood Commuters Association In Honor Of John A. McDermott


Proclamation by Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th) and Howard Zar, Kenwood Commuters Association, November 10, 2004

"In 1984 John McDermott brought together fellow Metra riders to form the Kenwood Commuters Association in order to preserve the 47th Street Station and improve train service. This effort was successful. The station remained open, ridership increased, and station improvements have recently been completed.

"In order to honor John's efforts in a special way, a bronze plaque was developed by the Kenwood Commuters Association, with assistance of the Kenwood Open House Committee, Metra, and the 4th ward Office....."

In 1984 and beyond, this station was on the verge of being abandoned--it had very low ridership, was in decay and unsafe and was unmarked. The Kenwood group worked through a combination of noise and pressure, rallying the troops and community organization allies, advertising, and sweat equity rebuilding the station. They succeeded in rebuilding ridership and staving off closure while the surrounding community gradually revitalized. John and his group even manned the phones at midnight to get commuters out when counts were to be taken. As the Herald reported May 15, 1985, "Members of the Kenwood Commuters Association celebrate the new sheen of the 47th St. a dedication ceremony last Saturday. The group voluntarily renovated the depot and is campaigning to attract more riders to keep open Kenwood's link to the loop."

The fight for the "Little Station That Could" was finally won at the end of 1986.

Letter by the Kenwood Commuters Association in the Herald, December 8.

In 1984, predecessors to Metra prepared to close the Kenwood/47th Street station due to low ridership. John McDermott, a Kenwood resident, knew that repairing and marketing the station would increase ridership, especially as the neighborhood was improving.

After considerable dialog, John obtained a commitment from rail officials to keep the station open temporarily. He brought together fellow riders to form the Kenwood Commuters Association, which actively repaired the station and conducted marketing, in cooperation with Metra. This effort was successful. Ridership increased and the station remained open. As John predicted, the station became "the little station that could," justifying improvements to the station by Metra, completed in 2004.

There would be no Kenwood station without John McDermott. In order to honor his efforts in a special way, a bronze plaque was developed by the Kenwood Commuters Association, with the assistance of the Kenwood Open House Committee and the 4th Ward Office.

47th Street Metra plaque honors station survivor

Hyde Park Herald, December 15, 2004. By Mike Stevens.

Despite freezing rain, John McDermott;s friends and family gathered Dec. 7 at the 47th Street Metra station for the unveiling of a bronze plaque honoring the Kenwood resident's fight to prevent its closure in the mid 1980s. McDermott, who founded the Chicago Reporter, passed away in 1996.

"When he saw a cause that needed work he went at it," McDermott's wife Theresa said.

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) and the remaining members of the Kenwood Commuters Association began looking for a way to honor McDermott nearly two years ago, co-chairman Howard Zar said. "This [station] wouldn't be here without him," Zar said. "We thought his name belonged on here somewhere."

McDermott founded the Kenwood Commuters Association after Metra threatened to close the 47th Street station in 1984 following years of low ridership. The new residents' group, at times referred to as "John's Army," spent weekends painting over graffiti, pulling weds and eventually took up marketing in an effort to boost ridership. During a probationary period in 1985, when Metra was counting riders, McDermott was not above a few midnight calls to boost totals, RAlph Brown said. "That's ballot-stuffing Chicago," brown joked. "Ride early and often," someone else quickly added to laughs.

The 47th Street station's survival has proven a key in the ongoing economic resurgence in the North Kenwood community, state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) said. "I think this [station] is John McDermott's 'Field of Dreams,'" Currie said, referencing the tagline "If you build it they will come" from the Kevin Costner movie.

The plaque's unveiling coincided with the formal opening of all three local Metra stations after four years of renovations.

Top Key connectors of the neighborhood to downtown and beyond and to the south suburbs: our four Metra stations.

51st-53rd Metra platform from Lake Park Avenue/. Gary Ossewaarde

Left: 51st-53rd platform along Lake Park- a transit node. Below: 57th platform (at dusk): gateway for University of Chicago commuters, Museum Science Industry.

57th platform at dusk. George Rumsey.


57th station from Lake Park Gary Ossewaarde

57th station from Lake Park terminus. Istria Cafe and store, with toilets, is under construction in this part.


HP Metra stations open after 4 years

Hyde Park Herald, December 15, 2004. By Mike Stevens

Hyde Park’s politicians officially opened Lake Park Avenue’s three rehabbed Metra stations Dec. 7, four years after construction began. Design problems, weather and a bankrupt construction firm conspired to delay the project, which completely rebuilt the stations at 47th, 51/53rd and 55/56/57th Streets.

“When this [project’s planning] started I was just a citizen,” six-year city council veteran Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) told a small crowd gathered at the 53rd St. station for the official ribbon-cutting. “Nothing comes without some struggle,” said Hairston, who joined Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), state House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1) at the ceremony.

During construction, work crews rebuilt all three platforms. Renovations include new concrete stairwells and brick and glass weather shelters. They also installed elevators for disabled riders at the 51st and 57th Street stations. Durable synthetic material replaced wood platforms built in the 1920s at the 51/53rd and 55/56/57th Streets stations. The 47th Street station received new wood platform boards. All three stations remained open throughout the construction.

Early work suffered through three years of delays caused by foul weather and design errors. The most recent and crippling delay came in summer 2003 when A. E. Berg Construction, Metra’s original general contractor on the project, declared bankruptcy. John Burns Construction was hired to finish the troubled project. The company started work in November 2003, just as the construction season came to a close.

“They came into a very large and very difficult project that was only half finished and they managed it quite nicely,” Metra spokesman Dan Schnolis(X) said. Metra, the Regional Transportation Agency, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Federal Transportation Administration split the tab for the $15.5 million project. Congressman Rush helped secure $6.4 million federal dollars for the project, Metra officials said.

The station renovations mark “the first big step” in a planned overhaul of the Lake Park Avenue corridor, said Howard Males(X). Males presides over the 53rd Street Tax Increment Finance District Advisory Council, which has monitored the Metra station construction as part of a larger plan to overhaul the Lake Park Avenue corridor from 47th to 60th Streets. “I think [the station rehabs] are huge, but it’s just the beginning,” Males said.

Although a long time in coming, the station rehabs are nice to see, said Irene Sherr, who sits on the TIF advisory council subcommittee overseeing the Lake Park Avenue facelift.
“They’re totally normal, bright and clean stations,“ Sherr said with a note of relief.



Information on our stations

Hyde Park and Kenwood currently have four stations- 47th, 51st-53rd, 55th-56th-57th, and 59th. Warning- you are charged $2 if you didn't buy a ticket before boarding. All stations have machines (55th's is up on the platform) and 51st and 57th have both ticket-sellers during rush hours at least and elevators.

The University and Hospitals shuttle stops have moved also. The #170 was adjusted to serve both stops long ago.

Off-peak Metra (mainline zoned and Blue Island) Metra, as well as NICTD South Shore trains, stop in Hyde Park at 57th Street including for intertrain transfer, although some rush hour through trains continue to stop at 59th. Evening combined trains stop at all stations with transfer to waiting South Chicago branch trains at at either 57th or 63rd. The way to be sure your train except starting at 8:20 pm stops in any given station in Kenwood, Hyde Park, Woodlawn or South Shore and beyond is to take a South Chicago train, but some stops are flag--you must notify the conductor if on the train, if catching- be visible.

New policy on bikes on train. Under a trial through October, riders can bring bikes on trains that depart between 9:30 and 3 pm or after 7 pm weekdays, in addition to weekend policies.

Metra Passenger Service Department: 312 322-6777


Present status, remaining problems with stations, getting cars with toilet accommodations; coffee shops coming to two stations.

Note: in August, 2005 Metra cancelled its order for the new fleet because the RTA does not have the capital allotment in hand. The southeast corridor is left with an aging fleet without toilets. For more on the funding background, see Regional and Beyond page.

There remain problems with homeless and threatening persons including teens at stations, especially a5 51st lately. Not every part of all the new stations have been correctly finished. Whether all leaks have been corrected remains unclear. While Istria continues to prepare coffee shop spaces in the 51st and 53rd stations, with toilets, any plans for the vacant new space in 53rd have not been revealed. Work on viaduct underpasses is supposed to start this year (as well as a mural restoration at 56th) but funding is wear. We hear nothing about plans to at least fix up 59th--even rumors it may be closed--or open the 60th side. 63rd has had some fix up and is a flag stop. 71st Stony Island and Bryn Mawr stations are being rebuilt. Most funding to date is from Metra, partly to bring about full accommodations, which is why the coffee shops will have toilets and one reason the hard-to-navigate and check-redundant gates were torn out.

New cars, Toilets on trains-state pushed for more capital funds or bonds. The Electric Branch is the only Metra line without toilets on trains. After legislators and congressmen raised a storm, Metra agreed to get moving and include toilets on new cars. However, this was dependent on using part of Strategic Capital Improvement Bonds, now being cut by the (state?), and now Metra wants to use capital to make up a budget shortfall--and we hear part of the problem is loss of southeast corridor business to the new CTA routes. We should note that since taking over the Electric from Illinois Central, Metra has spent an enormous amount repairing and upgrading the system including fleet. The following article presents some of the problems and gains on these questions and on the coming new fleet in general. Metra spokesman John Pogono says the company making the cars has agreed to hold the price for the remaining cars at $140 m for five months, after which it will raise the price $40 million. In addition to toilets, the cars have bigger windows, better lighting, non-skid floors (remember the entries and ramp-downs at the inner doors?), and improved public address. The door configuration has been criticized.

Senator blasts Metra choice to delay cars with restrooms.

Hyde Park Herald, May 18, 2005. By Mike Stevens

State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13) met with top Metra officials on My 6 after firing off letters questioning a decision to postpone the purchase of long-awaited restroom-equipped commuter cars on the Electric Line, saying it might violate federal civil rights legislation.

In a May 2 letter to top transit officials, Raoul asked if Metra had investigated the Title XI implications of focusing most of the $117 million in cuts to its capital budget on the Electric Line route which runs through predominantly African-American neighborhoods. "I'm not a Title XI expert. I'm not a transportation expert. I've got to cover all issues. So what I wanted to initiate was people asking questions to make sure everything is being done properly," Raoul said.

Over the next 10 years, Metra plans to replace all 165 cars on the line which remains the only Metra route without restrooms in its rail cars. Twenty-six new train cars have been purchased and will begin arriving this week.

The loss of a special bond program that funds large transit agency purchases such as new rail cars caused Metra to defer ordering the remaining cars last January, Metra spokesman Judy Pardonnet said. "We didn't cut anything from our budget. [The Regional Transportation Authority] let us know we didn't have the $500 million to purchase the balance of the fleet and the maintenance facility," Pardonnet said. "To go into our operating budget to pay for $500 million is impossible."

The Electric Line fleet replacement is the only project on the table to receive such bonds, called Strategic Capital Improvement Bonds (SCIP), Pardonnet said. "This is our number one priority," Pardonnet said.

Metra will celebrate the delivery of the first two restroom-equipped Electric Line cars on May 20. Riders can expect to see the new stainless-steel skinned cars starting in October.

To pay for the remaining fleet's replacement, Metra plans to push state lawmakers to approve new SCIP bond legislation, Pardonnet said. Raoul said they began last week at their May 6 meeting. "They made it clear to me that it's part of my responsibility to scream, holler, jump up and down fort some capital money to be reinstated," Raoul said.


Problems getting the stations done

Michael W. Hoke wrote a letter detailing problems with the station work. Some have been since addressed, some are outside the scope of the project or await another project such as mural restoration or the viaduct passageway project. But others are all too true. And even those scheduled, the wait has been far to long. Aldermen, are you listening?

Those needing attention:

Out of scope:

Inaccurate: No bike racks. Now installed at 56th, others?? coming?? waiting pedway work?


Poor service at 59th Street Metra station

This is not the first complaint about physical conditions, safety, and caretaking of the 59th station. In addition, the University wants it and the viaducts fixed up and Ald. Hairston wants the 60th access reopened.

Hyde Park Herald, December 8, 2004. By Maryal Stone Dale

It was enlightening but not amusing to find out after t he first real snow how lousy the care is going to be at the 59th St. Metra station, in spite of he fact t hat a large part of Hyde Park and Woodlawn use it.

I found the handrails all slippery with ice and the steps barley climbable because of salt tossed on them, making them very slick. And the platform was worse (this is 10 a.m. on a sunny morning).

The train to the Loop ran late and stopped far north. They opened only a couple of cars and yelled at the passengers to "run" as we went past. I saw that the 55th-56th-57th station was swept clean. How nice for them.

and Metra should board up vacant storefronts--note that these are Canadian National property. This is far from the first complaint about these problems also.

Hyde Park Herald, December 8, 2004. By Michael W. Hoke

I understand that Metra authorities intend on publicizing the work on the stations within Hyde Park on Dec. 7. I believe this is four years after the work started.

I would hope that several questions be asked of these individuals and Alderperson Toni Preckwinkle. They are: What are t he intentions...regarding the abandoned storefronts located at 1551 E. Hyde Park Blvd. and 1550 E. 53rd St.? These storefronts are eyesores and appear to be dangerous. Why were they not included in the rehabilitation process?

I believe that Alderperson Preckwinkle should request the City of Chicago Department of Buildings to inspect these locations, issue citations if violations are found and demand that the locations be boarded up properly until [the party responsible for them] decides what they are going to do with their properties.


History of effort to revitalize Hyde Park Corridor rail stations

New Metra Electric stations for the neighborhood were under discussion since at least 1991. (Requests decades earlier were denied on the basis of the ongoing public transit crisis that led to creation of RTA and transfer of declining IC service to a new commuter railroad entity, Metra.)

By the end of the decade, plans had been presented and debated (with few of the suggested changes adopted) excluding first 59th, then any more than cosmetics and some lengthening for 47th. The plans for 51st-53rd and 55th-56th-57th included an elevator at 51st (at community preference over 53rd) and at 57th, concrete platforms, a ticket agent at 57th (which will become the main stop and transfer in the neighborhood), and space for a concession at 51st, 53rd, 56th, and 57th. (59th was to be considered after operation of the new stations was observed but now seems to have dropped completely off the radar despite deterioration and requests by the alderman to reopen the 60th St. exit.)

Work started in 2000, ran into design and supply problems and periodically stalled. The 51st and 57th stations were completed to the point where they could be open and functioning but without the elevator at 51st and without the ticket attendant at 57th and concessions at none. 53rd, 55th, and 56th remain closed and a shambles, including the business district gateway on the north side of 53rd and the University gateway on the north side of 57th.

The most recent delays were attributed to default of the general contractor. The following report promised resumption and completion. This finally happened in November, 2003 and work at the 51st and 57th stations are virtually completed. Because of the lateness of the season, Metra will not commit to a completion date for 53rd and 55th/56th.

Meanwhile, more amenities are being asked by Senator Obama and others. Turnstyles have been yanked, (approved by Metra's Board in November), eliminating what some consider a harassing double-check. (On other Metra lines you just buy a ticket and the conductor checks it on the train.) There will be toilets on the new highliners coming starting in 2005; our stations will not get the portapotties being used in the far south suburbs.)

The viaduct and the murals- to more

The TIF Landscape Committee February 24, 2004 heard recommendations from the Public Art Group (highly regarded) concerning murals on the viaducts. The recommendations have been accepted by the city. Three murals would be restored: "Under city stone" on the north wall of 55th, "Pioneer Social Work" by Hyde Parker Astrid Fuller on the north wall of 57th, and "Spirit of Hyde Park" also by Fuller, on the south wall of 57th. Funds have not been identified. The murals on 47th will be left as are. To be hidden behind panes are "The Wheel of Time" on the north wall of 51st, "The Circle Journey" on the south wall of 53rd, and "Alewives and Mercury Fish" by Albert Zeno on the south wall of 55th.The South East Chicago Commission already funded preservation of two on the south side of 56th each by a noted artist "Where Have You Been, Where Are You Going" on pillars, partly obscured by new construction, and four abstracted women at the east end of that viaduct wall. The Public Art Group said its standard was connection with the community, historic importance, and impact on other muralists. Meanwhile, the viaducts keep peeling and spalling while funds -and ways to pressure Canadian National -sought.
To Later information and full discussion and link to graphics. Top

57th platform at night