Planning Your Train Crawl

Our mission statement is to promote sustainable, walkable development in the suburbs. As part of that mission, along with our transit advocacy, we’ve created this website as a one-stop shop to helping you and your group ride the rails and plan your own train crawl throughout the Chicago region.

How it Works

Train crawls, like any other pub crawl, are built around an afternoon or evening of bar hopping, experiencing and enjoying a variety of establishments. However, while most pub crawls utilize several bars that are in close proximity to each other (and therefore can be walked to and from), train crawls expand the geography of the event by utilizing Metra’s commuter rail service throughout the region to move between venues. This also allows members of your party to eat, drink, and be merry without needing to worry about driving home at the end of the night. Let Metra do the driving for you!


Scheduling

Metra’s weekend service, where it exists, is usually infrequent — on most routes, trains run every two hours, with some lines having limited hourly service inbound in the morning and outbound in the evening. Other train crawls often accept the two-hour headways, which may only stop at a few bars for about two hours at a time. However, your train crawls could also be a little more more complex from a scheduling standpoint to allow for a wider variety of bars with less time at each bar, usually on the order of 45 to 90 minutes per bar. This allows your group to cover more ground, explore more communities, and support more local businesses in the same amount of time and minimizing the time spent at any “dud” bars that people may find less enjoyable. Most train crawls generally begin in the late morning or early afternoon and run until early to mid-evening.

In May 2017 we started rolling out our Weekend Commuter Rail Guides to help plan your trip in more straightforward, easy-to-read timetables than the traditional Metra schedules, complete with bars within walking distance of every Metra station with weekend service.

We also have an interactive map of the region that takes our bar recommendations from the Weekend Guides and allows you to take them anywhere digitally. If you have a smartphone, launch the map and allow your location to help navigate during your crawl.


Tickets

Train crawls wouldn’t be possible — or at least would be much more logistically challenging — without Metra’s weekend pass. Every weekend, Metra offers a $10 pass good for both Saturday and Sunday for unlimited rides on all of their lines. Tickets are available from conductors onboard the train (cash only), or on your smartphone using the Ventra app. Metra monthly pass holders can also use their monthly pass on the train crawl (even if it’s on a different line than they commute on) provided pass holders do not over-ride their pass’s fare zone restrictions.


Beginning and Ending a Train Crawl

We strongly recommend beginning your train crawl with a meal, since there are few things that ruin a crawl (or, more accurately, the night of or the morning after the crawl) faster than drinking on an empty stomach. Once again, local establishments are preferred. We try to also recommend scheduling your train crawls to make it easy to return to the starting station for people who choose to drive to and from the crawl. Our weekend guides provide comprehensive information about train schedules, fares, and connecting transit services (and rideshare providers such as Lyft and Uber are well-established in the region now), so there’s no reason to worry about driving. Don’t drink and drive.


Recommendations

Some tips and tricks from our experiences:

  • Bring cash. Time is limited at each bar, and the train schedule is often unforgiving. You don’t want to deal with trying to close out a tab when the train is three minutes away.
  • Keep your eye on the clock. It’s easy to get caught up in having fun at a bar. Plan on a certain “last call” time at each bar to make sure you have enough time to get back to the station.
  • Remember what side of the station you need to be on. Generally Metra trains use right-hand running, similar to a road, but the three Union Pacific lines use left-hand (British) running where the direction of travel is reversed. If your bar is on the opposite side of the tracks you need to be on to board your next train, leave some extra time to make it back across in case there’s a freight train.
  • Don’t forget a schedule. Standard paper schedules are available onboard trains, and pocket-sized paper schedules are available at the downtown terminals. Our Weekend Guides can easily be printed out on legal-size paper as well. Official Metra schedules are also available online and in many transportation smartphone apps. If your Train Crawl involves a more complex schedule, consider printing and distributing your own personalized schedule people in your crawl can follow.
  • Use a train tracker app. Metra is generally reliable within a few minutes of the printed schedules, but occasionally trains fall behind for one reason or another. Utilizing a train tracker smartphone app — like the one built into the Ventra app — will help you see real-time schedule information so you can plan accordingly.
  • Plan a “Plan B”. Maybe the weather is bad, or maybe a train gets cancelled, or maybe a bar closed, or maybe you missed your train, or maybe any other of a million things can go wrong. When planning your crawl, consider a few contingency options that you can insert into your schedule if things don’t go according to plan.

Planning Your Own Train Crawl

Looking to plan your outing to ride the rails and explore the suburbs? Check out The Yard Social Club’s Ultimate Train Crawl Map for community amenities at each Metra station served by weekend trains including venue recommendations based on our previous crawls, or download your line’s Weekend Guide. When in doubt, contact one of our Crawl Concierges to help you plan your crawl.

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