Diverging Approach: Short Circuit

Every so often, like most people (I think), I get a little flare-up of imposter syndrome, where I feel like my skill set is getting a little soft and I’m losing my edge. To a certain extent, I think imposter syndrome is healthy and a great motivator; of course, with my various neuroses and trust issues it’s probably a symptom of some deeper mental issues I struggle with. (Reminder: it’s okay to not be okay, and mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of.)

Anywho, finding myself with Friday, July 5th – which just so happened to be my 34th birthday – open and with Metra inexplicably running a full weekday schedule and, even more inexplicably, charging full fares instead of doing a 4th/5th Weekend Pass like they do for Thanksgiving and Lollapalooza every year, or finally piloting the Day Pass that was discussed and approved way back when, I decided to dive head-first into boosting my Metra bonafides: I chose to ride every one of Metra’s 11 lines in a single day.

See the “4th” box that was printed but not used for the holiday? I declare shenanigans.

Unlike the ‘L’ Challenge that requires stopping at every single CTA station, to make this challenge more achievable I ended up scheduling a journey that involved traveling on each line at least once. This schedule also used Metra’s official 11 lines and not our 14-line schematic, which would have taken significantly longer.

The overall journey – which took exactly 11 hours to meet my goal – reminded me of a lot missed opportunities in our commuter rail network. If you want the play-by-play of how the journey went, dive into this Twitter thread. Twitter threads are nice, but I really thought I needed a blog post to do the journey justice.

In a nutshell, here’s the schedule I used, all legs of which went (mostly) according to plan. I also ended up hitting the foamer superfecta, with at least one trip on Metra, the ‘L’, CTA bus, and Pace bus:

  • 0758: MD-W to Western Ave, arrive 0807
  • 0817: MD-N to Chicago Union Station, arrive 0829
  • 0900: NCS to O’Hare Transfer, arrive 0932
  • Airport shuttle bus to terminals
  • CTA Blue Line to Jefferson Park
  • 1101: UP-NW to Clybourn, arrive 1112
  • 1117: UP-N to Ogilvie, arrive 1128
  • 1140: UP-W to Oak Park, arrive 1156
  • Pace #307-Harlem to Harlem Ave BNSF
  • 1320: BNSF to Chicago Union Station, arrive 1347
  • 1445: HC to Joliet, arrive 1551
  • 1620: RI to Blue Island, arrive 1700
  • 1738: ME to Van Buren St, 1823
  • CTA #126-Jackson to Chicago Union Station
  • 1858: SWS to Wrightwood

I was tempted to write one huge epic about the excursion, but the more I thought about it, and the more often I sat down to write and save things in a draft folder, the more I realized that it would be more useful to split up the trip into those individual legs with blog posts for each to discuss a particular issue with the system, either on an individual line or as a whole. I also realized that it would be useful to have one central clearinghouse of topics we discuss regularly when it comes to improving suburban transit, and furthermore I realized I hate myself and just built a new mountain for me to climb.

But so be it: as Star:Line Chicago winds down, Diverging Approach will be diving right back into action with a series we’re calling the Metrathalon, a bunch of Metra-themed deep-dives based on observations from my July 5th excursion in which I attempted to (and, spoiler alert, succeeded in) taking a ride on one Metra train from each line within a single day. Right now there’s no set frequency of the posts, but I’ll generally try to push one out every week or so until the end of the year. This being a blog, there will be plenty of potholes and callbacks throughout the Metrathalon posts, so don’t worry about missing a post when it gets published because there’ll be plenty of places to check out what you missed.

Here’s the tentative post schedule, which will be updated with links as posts go live. Note that some post titles may change between now and when they get posted.

  • Week 1: Short Circuit (you are here)
  • Week 2: Metra 101
  • Week 3: Rolling Thunder
  • Week 4: Earning Our Wings
  • Week 5: Fares and Fairness
  • Week 6: Adventures in Reliability
  • Week 7: Finger on the Pulse
  • Week 8: The Racetrack
  • Week 9: Choose Your Fighter
  • Week 10: My Own Worst Enemy
  • Week 11: The Chicago Problem
  • Week 12: Think Outside the Farebox
  • Week 13: Now What?