St. Patrick’s Day Post-Mortem

First and foremost, thank you to everyone who tagged along on this year’s Itasca St. Patrick’s Day Parade. We had a great year, and this was one of our most well-attended St. Patrick’s Days in recent memory. The Yard Social Club began organizing Metra trips following the last “perfect storm” year where St. Patrick’s Day landed on a Saturday and the trains and downtown were far too crowded for our liking.

And, of course, this year was just like that as well.

First and foremost, even though we planned ahead and negotiated an official 65-person group rate with Metra, the railroad was still caught off-guard by just how deep we rolled from Itasca. While some of that was no doubt part of overall crowding on the system — our 9:23am train had a whopping ten cars, compared to the MD-W’s typical 6- or 7-car consist — no one told our train crew that they had a large group boarding at Itasca. Likewise for the flip trip on the 4:30pm train out of Union Station. I’m looking forward to touching base with Metra and giving them some constructive feedback based on our experience.

Secondly, I apparently wildly misjudged the level of interest in discounted tickets this year. Probably a combination of the Weekend Pass going up to $10 this year and me scaling back our group size after eating a few tickets last year, we had 63 of our 65 tickets spoken for before I arrived at the pre-party. While I’m happy that so many of you chose to use our online registration to get your tickets before the day of the event, having a better idea of the level of interest further ahead of the event would’ve allowed me to change the group size with Metra before the event and get more people in the discounted rate. (Metra’s Group Rates rules require any changes in group size to be submitted no later than 21 days before the event, and requires payment in full no later than 14 days before the event.) While I don’t think the base price will change for 2019, here’s an early warning: prices for tickets will go up for people who aren’t registered by the end of February.

Thirdly, downtown was far too crowded. I will give the Berghoff kudos for expanding their bar area, which made our traditional first stop much more enjoyable. However, our secret is officially out in regards to The Bar Below: while the bar wasn’t that crowded at first, bringing a group of 80 people to a single bar will wildly swing how crowded that bar feels and how fast we can get drinks at the bar.

The good news is, thanks to some upcoming leap years, the next “perfect storm” year won’t happen until 2029. Hopefully next year will be a little less crowded downtown. That said, I did have a few ideas to make next year run smoother for all of us:

  • Earlier coordination with Metra. I plan on working more closely with Metra next year to make sure Metra has a better idea of what to expect when we roll into Itasca. We get our discounted ticket rate by using Metra’s group fares, which means Metra (theoretically) knows to expect a huge group to board on certain trains. While Metra can’t guarantee private train cars for groups (obviously), if the train crew knows ahead of time to expect a group of 80 people, they usually try to hold a car for us. (Each Metra car officially seats about 125 people.)
  • Variable trains home. Every year, some people opt out of our discounted group tickets since that 4:30pm outbound trip isn’t attractive for many people. (I know others of you just humor me and buy our discounted tickets, knowing you’ll need an extra fare to get back to the suburbs — and I thank you for that.) However, with a large enough group, we may be able to reach a critical mass to allow for variable trains home: Metra’s group fare rules won’t let the group rate be a blank slate for any train you want (as someone inevitably finds out the hard way every year, no matter how many warnings I put on the registration forms and the tickets themselves), but I may be able to finagle splitting our group up onto two or three different trains home. Of course, this involves ticket holders to plan ahead and anticipate what train to take home — and y’all aren’t the best planners in the world, and definitely not moreso after a day of drinking. Furthermore, there needs to be a certain critical mass of people in the group for Metra to entertain group rates. Here’s my proposed set-up for next year; please leave me some comments and feedback on your thoughts and how interested you would be in the various options:
    • 9:23am inbound: We all leave Itasca on the 9:23, per tradition.
    • Early outbound: small group (25% or so of the total group) gets the 1:30pm departure, which lets you join us for the Berghoff and The Bar Below, then head back to Itasca early.
    • Traditional outbound: reserved for about half of the group, our traditional 4:30pm departure gets us back to Tree Guys by 5:30.
    • Late outbound: the last 25% of the tickets would be reserved for people spending extra time downtown and taking the 8:40pm train home.

As always, your thoughts and feedback are always appreciated, so contribute your two cents in the comments below, or send your hate mail straight to I’d like to thank the entire McDonald family once again for being such gracious hosts, for starting this tradition years and years and years ago, and for continuing to put this great event together year after year. See you next year!

The Yard Social Club Metra Line Naming System

Edit, April 8, 2018: In light of some increased web traffic to this post this weekend, I went ahead and dug a little deeper into our map in a new Diverging Approach post. This post has not been edited.

Nothing Metra does can be easy, and their line nomenclature fits right in. Metra operates a legacy network of commuter rail service, and as such most of their lines are named after their host (or former host) railroads. While this serves as a semi-interesting history lesson, it makes for a network that is less than intuitive for infrequent riders.

Since we can’t leave well-enough alone, we’ve developed our own naming scheme for the Metra system. You may see various lines on this site referred to by letter rather than their official Metra names, but we try to include both names wherever possible to aid in navigation for infrequent riders.

With a hat-tip to the New York City Subway system, we developed our naming scheme based on a lettering system to differentiate Metra from the CTA’s rail lines (which are color-coded) and CTA and Pace bus networks (which are numbered). Generally, Metra lines are lettered increasing in a counter-clockwise manner from north to south, with groups of letters based out of the four/five downtown rail terminals. (We subdivided Union Station into a North Concourse and a South Concourse, based on the raw number of trains that leave Union Station relative to the other terminals.)

From there, each lettered line includes three variations: full-service trains, which generally operate off-peak and on weekends and serve most stops; express trains, which bypass a certain batch of stations before running local for the rest of the train trip; and short-turn local trains which make a certain number of stops and turn around and head back into the city.  Full-service trains are shown in circles/parenthesis; express trains are shown in diamonds/angled brackets; and local trains are shown in squares/square brackets. This allows us to refer to trains by a single letter and a shape, which gives basic information about where that train goes and where it stops.

The system is by no means perfect, due to the fact that Metra schedules are highly irregular between trains (since some trains make some stops and other trains do not). However, our system provides a simple unified naming structure throughout the system that we feel is relatively straightforward and intuitive. While schedules of individual trains vary, this system allows us to more easily group trains based on their schedule and destinations in general terms.

As a reminder, Metra trains do not use naming system, but they theoretically could if Metra ever chose to adopt a simpler naming system to make the network more friendly to infrequent riders. (Just one more way we here at The Yard Social Club try to give back to our community!)

Below is a list of Metra’s various train formats, with our naming system. Also included are maps showing the full schematic of Weekday and Weekend trains throughout the system with The Yard Social Club’s naming system.

  • Ogilvie Transportation Center
    • ⒶⒷ – Union Pacific North
      • (A) – Trains to Kenosha
      • <A> – Express trains to Kenosha
      • (B) – Trains to Waukegan
      • <B> – Express trains to Waukegan
      • [B] – Local trains to Winnetka
      • <AB> – Weekend express trains to Waukegan or Kenosha
      • <♪> – Weekend special Ravinia Park Express
    • ⒸⒹ – Union Pacific Northwest
      • (C) – Trains to Harvard
      • <C> – Express trains to Harvard
      • [C] – Local trains to Crystal Lake
      • (D) – Trains to McHenry
      • <D> – Express trains to McHenry
      • [D] – Local trains to Des Plaines
    • Ⓔ – Union Pacific West
      • (E) – Trains to Elburn
      • <E> – Express trains to Elburn
      • [E] – Local trains to Elmhurst
    • Ⓕ – Reserved for future use
  • Union Station – North Concourse
    • Ⓖ – Milwaukee North
      • (G) – Trains to Fox Lake
      • <G> – Express trains to Fox Lake
      • [G] – Local trains to Deerfield/Lake Forest*
    • ⒽⒾ – North Central Service
      • <H> – Express trains from Antioch via Milwaukee North
      • (I) – Trains to Antioch via Milwaukee West
      • <I> – Express trains to Antioch via Milwaukee West
    • ⒿⓀ – Milwaukee West
      • (J) – Trains to Elgin
      • <J> – Express trains to Elgin/Big Timber, making stops Bensenville-Roselle
      • [J] – Local trains to Franklin Park
      • (K) – Trains to Big Timber Road
      • <K> – Express trains to Elgin/Big Timber, making stops Schaumburg-National Street
  • Union Station – South Concourse
    • Ⓛ – Heritage Corridor
      • (L) – Trains to Joliet via Heritage Corridor
    • Ⓜ︎ⓃⓄⓅ – BNSF Railway
      • <M> – Express trains to Aurora, making stops Downers Grove-Main St. to Lisle
      • (N) – Trains to Aurora
      • <N> – Express trains to Naperville and Route 59
      • <MN> – Express trains making stops Downers Grove-Main St. to Aurora
      • <O> – Express trains making stops Highlands-Fairview Ave.
      • <P> – Express trains making stops Congress Park-Hinsdale
      • <OP> – Express trains making stops Congress Park-Fairview Ave.
      • [P] – Local trains to Brookfield
    • Ⓠ – SouthWest Service
      • (Q) – Trains to Manhattan
      • [Q] – Local trains to Orland Park/179th
  • LaSalle Street Station
    • ⓇⓈ – Rock Island
      • (R) – Trains to Joliet via Vincennes Ave.
      • <R> – Express trains to Joliet via Vincennes Ave.
      • [R] – Local trains to Blue Island via Vincennes Ave.
      • (S) – Trains to Joliet via Beverly/Morgan Park
      • [S] – Local trains to Blue Island via Beverly/Morgan Park
    • Ⓣ – Reserved for future use
  • Millennium Station
    • ⓍⓎⓏ – Metra Electric
      • (U) – Trains to University Park
      • <U> – Express trains to University Park, making stops Kensington-University Park
      • (V) – Trains to Blue Island via Hyde Park
      • <V> – Express trains to Blue Island via Hyde Park
      • [V] – Shuttle trains from Blue Island to Kensington
      • ( W ) – Trains to South Chicago/93rd
      • <X> – Express trains to Harvey, making stops Kensington-Harvey
      • <Y> – Express trains to Flossmoor, making stops Hazel Crest-Flossmoor
      • <Z> – Express trains to University Park, making stops Olympia Fields-University Park

* – Some weekday MD-N [G] trains continue to Grayslake. Weekend [G] trains terminate at Lake Forest.

View Weekday map as a PDF.
View Weekend map as a PDF.


New: Crawl Concierge!

Want to plan your own train crawl but don’t know where to start? Or do you have an idea about what you want to do but you don’t want to deal with going through the schedules? Announcing The Yard Social Club’s new Crawl Concierge service! Simply let us know what you have in mind and we’ll plan your crawl for you! Check out our Crawl Concierge page for more information.

St. Patrick’s Day Train Tickets Now Available!

Train tickets for our annual Itasca St. Patrick’s Day bar crawl are now available! As in previous years, we have a special discounted ticket available for our two official crawl trains. To save time and avoid hassles on the day of the event, this year prices will change depending on when you buy your tickets:

  • Yard Social Special: Buy your tickets on the Snowball Crawl for $6.
  • Standard Pricing: Starting February 1, tickets will be available for $6.50.
  • Day of Event: Tickets are $7 the day of the event, a $1 discount from the Weekend Pass.
  • Ride-along Tickets: If you don’t need a crawl ticket (if you plan on buying a $8 Weekend Pass or if you have a Zone E or higher Metra monthly ticket), special ride-along tickets are available for free to make sure you can ride in the reserved car with us.  However, space is limited.

Reserve your tickets now! Pay The Mayor in person (he usually can be found on Saturdays at Tree Guys), or via Chase QuickPay.