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NRHS 2021 Metra Commuter Special Excursion 8/28/2021

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I woke up at the DoubleTree Hotel and we went to have a buffet breakfast at 6:00 since the hotel opened their restaurant early especially for today since the buses had to depart earlier than the previous days. I returned to work on the internet while Elizabeth was busy with bus host duties.

On the way to Fox Lake.

An arm of Fox Lake. The bus arrived and unloaded then I talked with my good friend Steve Barry for a few minutes.

Metra History

Metra is a commuter rail system in the Chicago metropolitan area serving the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs via the Union Pacific and BNSF Railways. The system operates 242 stations on 11 rail lines. It is the fourth busiest commuter rail system in the United States by ridership and the largest and busiest commuter rail system outside the New York City metropolitan area. There were 83.4 million passenger rides in 2014, up 1.3% from the previous year. The estimated busiest day for Metra ridership occurred on November 4, 2016, the day of the Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series victory rally. Using Chicago's rail infrastructure, much of which dates to the 1850s, the Illinois General Assembly established the parent Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) to consolidate all public transit operations in the Chicago area, including commuter rail. The RTA's creation was a result of the anticipated failure of commuter service operated and owned by various private railroad companies in the 1970s. In 1984, RTA formed a commuter rail division to focus on rail operations, which branded itself as Metra in 1985. Freight rail companies still operate four of Metra's routes under purchase-of-service agreements. Metra owns all rolling stock and is responsible for all stations along with the respective municipalities. Since its inception, Metra has directed more than $5 billion into the commuter rail system of the Chicago metropolitan area alongside the CTA.

Early Chicago commuter rail

Since its founding in the 19th century, Chicago has been a major Midwestern hub in the North American rail network. It has more trackage radiating in more directions than any other city in North America. Railroads set up their headquarters in the city and Chicago became a center for building freight cars, passenger cars and diesel locomotives. Early commuter services were run by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, Chicago and Northwestern, and Milwaukee Road.

By the 1930s, Chicago had the world's largest public transportation system, but commuter rail services started to decline. [By the mid-1970s, the commuter lines faced an uncertain future. The Burlington Northern, Milwaukee Road, Chicago and North Western and Illinois Central had been losing money for several years, and were using trainsets with passenger cars dating as far back as the 1920s.

Formation of the RTA

To provide stability to the commuter rail system, the Illinois General Assembly formed the Regional Transportation Authority in 1974. Its purpose was to fund and plan the Chicago region's public transportation. After initially using second-hand equipment, the RTA took delivery of the first new EMD F40PH locomotives in 1976. That F40PH fleet is still in service today. The companies that had long provided commuter rail in the Chicago area continued to operate their lines under contract to the RTA.

Less than a decade later the Regional Transportation Authority was already suffering from ongoing financial problems. Additionally, two rail providers, the Rock Island Line and the Milwaukee Road, went bankrupt, forcing the RTA to create the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation to operate their lines directly in 1982. In 1983 the Illinois Legislature reorganized the agency. That reorganization left the Regional Transportation Authority in charge of day-to-day operations of all bus, heavy rail and commuter rail services throughout the Chicago metropolitan area. It was also responsible for directing fare and service levels, setting up budgets, finding sources for capital investment and planning. A new Commuter Rail Division was created to handle commuter rail operations; along with CTA and Pace, it was one of RTA's three "service boards."

Metra branding

The board of the RTA Commuter Rail Division first met in 1984. In an effort to simplify the operation of commuter rail in the Chicago area, in July 1985 it adopted a unified brand for the entire system–Metra, or Metropolitan Rail. The newly reorganized Metra service helped to bring a single identity to the many infrastructure components serviced by the Regional Transportation Authority's commuter rail system. However, the system is still legally known as the Commuter Rail Division of the RTA.

Today, Metra's operating arm, the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation, operates seven Metra owned routes. Four other routes continue to be operated by Union Pacific (formerly Chicago & North Western) and BNSF (formerly Burlington Northern) under contract to Metra. Service throughout the network is provided under the Metra name (in keeping with Metra's goal of providing a single identity for all commuter rail in the region). Metra also owns all rolling stock, controls fares and staffing levels, and is responsible for most of the stations. However, the freight carriers who operate routes under contract use their own employees and control the right-of-way for those routes.

Metra Commuter Special Excursion

We will be riding on chartered motor coaches to the station at Fox Lake, Illinois, where we will board the special four-car excursion train. Our excursion will use commuter coaches and will begin on the former Milwaukee Road West line to Big Timber/Elgin. We will then run to Tower A12 near Franklin Park where we will transfer to the former Soo 15 Line, now CN line to Antioch, Illinois. Riders will be able to detrain at Antioch for a short station stop to stretch their legs. We will then return to Fox Lake, where we will re-board the motor coaches for the return trip to the hotel. Restroom facilities are available on the train.

Our Trip

I was at the east end and waited for the revenue train to come out of storage.

Train 2128, one of the regularly-scheduled Milwaukee District North Line trains, came from the storage area.

Two views of our train.

A Metra wrapped car of Train 2128. This train left at 8:45 AM bound for Chicago.

Our NRHS train came out from storage.

Metra MP36 405, the Milwaukee Road heritage locomotive.

Metra MP36 402, State of Illinois locomotive, with emblems honoring the six counties in which the agency provides commuter rail.

The two units that would be pushing the train to Tower A-5.

The train went down the siding to the west end then reversed into the station. Everyone boarded the train and Elizabeth and I took seats in the cab car. The consist of our NRHS special Metra train was bi-level cab car 8564, coaches 8572, 7447, 6013, 7449 and 7285 with engines 402 and 405. We departed on time at 9:00.

The train passed the Metra Fox Lake storage yard.

The train ran through Metra Ingleside station.

On the way to Long Lake.

The train ran through Metra Long Lake station.

On the way to Round Lake.

The train ran through Round Lake station.

On the way to Grayslake.

The view as we went by Grayslake station.

The crossing with the Canadian National Railway; this line we will ride later in our trip to Antioch.

Our train ran through Metra Prairie Crossing station.

On the way to Libertyville.

Going through Libertyville station.

On the way to Rondout, the junction of the Canadian Pacific Railway where we were slowed by a double yellow signal.

The train was slowed up to the red signal.

We received a green signal to switch onto the former Milwaukee Road line, now Canadian Pacific, near Rondout and head south.

This bridge is on the former Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee railroad grade and is now a bicycle trail.

The Rondout Tower and the former Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railroad, now part of the Canadian National Railway.

Heading south of Rondout.

A Metra train heading to Fox Lake.

Our train ran through Metra Lake Forest station.

Next we headed to Deerfield for a shady photo runby.

The Deerfield station which I would use the restroom after the photo runby.

This was the shady NRHS photo runby at Metra's Deerfield station.

The return move after which we all reboarded the train.

Once on board, we ran through the Metra Lake-Cook station.

A Canadian Pacific Railway freight train passed us on the other mainline heading west.

Northbrook was the next station we sped through.

Our train ran through this junction and under the old Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee bridge.

Straight track was very prevalent today and here we travel through North Glenview station.

The non-locals would surely get mixed up with the previous station of North Glenview and this one, Glenview.

We next passed through Metra Golf station.

Metra's Morton Grove station was the next station on the line.

Our train ran through the Metra Edgebrook station.

Our train ran through the Metra Forest Glen station.

Our train ran through the Metra Glenwood station.

This small station at Mayfair witnessed our train speed by.

On the way to Grayland station.

Our train crossed the old Chicago and North Western freight line.

Our train ran through the Metra Healy station.

Tower A-5 which we would come by.

The train went through this crossing before we reversed to go to Antioch.

One last view of Tower A-5.

We left Tower A-5 and our junction and were now heading toward Antioch.

These switches were gone through to enable us to get onto the westbound tracks.

On the way through the Hanson Park station.

The Franklin Park Metra station.

A Canadian Pacific Railway transfer train switching cars to add to their train.

Our train ran through the Metra River Grove station.

Our train ran through the Metra Mars station.

Mont Clare was the next station on the Milwaukee District West Line.

An eastbound Metra train heading to Chicago on the way to Rosemont.

Our train ran through the Metra Elwood station.

Our Metra train took this curve to enter the Canadian National line to Antioch.

Rosemont was the next station.

Our train ran through the Metra Schiller Park station.

Our train en route to O'Hare Transfer station.

Going through the O'Hare Transfer station.

The charter train started to run on a single track.

Crossing the Metra, former Chicago and North Western line, to Harvard and McHenry.

On the way to Prospect Heights.

Our train ran through Metra's Prospect Heights station.

On the way to Wheeling.

A quick trip through Metra's Wheeling station.

That was followed by Buffalo Grove station.

Prairie View was the next station on the line.

We then crossed the old Elgin, Joliet and Eastern tracks, now owned by the Canadian National Railway.

Passing freight cars on this line.

Our train ran through Metra Vernon Hills station.

On the way to Mundelein.

A single track goes through Mundelein station.

The Canadian National crossing with the Fox Lake line. We will return here to reach Fox Lake later this afternoon.

On the way to the Prairie Crossing station.

Our train ran through Metra Prairie Crossing station.

En route to Round Lake Beach.

Our train ran through Metra Round Lake Beach station.

On the way to Lake Villa.

Lake Villa is the penultimate station on this line.

Scenes on the way to Antioch.

Our train ran through the Antioch station.

After passing through the Antioch station, we were now on true rare mileage as we entered Wisconsin and entered Metra's Antioch storage yard where we stopped. Here we were allowed off the train to take all the photographs we wanted.

Metra MP36 402 State of Illinois emblems unit.

Metra MP36 405 Milwaukee Road Heritage unit.

The front of our NRHS Special train.

The Antioch storage line-up. I was very surprised to see three engines that I had ridden behind on my Pacific Surfliners, now here in Antioch working for Metra.

Metra F59PHI 92.

Metra F59PHI 77.

Metra F59PHI 73. I walked back to the train.

A view looking from the cab car toward the front of our train.

Minutes later our train left the yard and we headed to the Canadian National Railway crossing to get back to Fox Lake.

Heading south down the Canadian National tracks.

The train received a red over green signal.

Rolling south down the Canadian National Railway.

The train received a red over green signal.

Still rolling south down this railroad.

The train received a final red over green signal and we took the interchange track for another piece of really rare mileage.

Our train ran down the interchange track to the Fox Lake Line.

Now we will return to Fox Lake. As we neared we had to enter the Fox Lake storage yard to let a regular weekend train head for Chicago. The crew had trouble with this switch, which was a hand thrown one, so we sat for a while after the other train departed before we could return to Fox Lake.

This was a former Rock Island cab car. I was first off and found Bus 1 where Elizabeth marked me off and I boarded the bus sitting with my beautiful wife for the trip back to Milwaukee once we had 32 passengers aboard.

As the bus left Fox Lake I took my final picture of the Metra 405 Milwaukee Road heritage unit. The bus returned us to Milwaukee, thus ending a excellent 2021 NRHS Convention in Milwaukee. I went back to the room and worked more on the Christopher Farms story then had a buffet dinner with my most beautiful and sexy wife, Elizabeth, before we returned to the room for the night.