Metra looking to re-vamp connection to convention center

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CHICAGO — Metra will invest as much as $500,000 to upgrade its underused station at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center to lure customers away from the city’s taxis, buses, and ride-sharing services, officials said Wednesday.

A sparse waiting room in the sprawling convention center along the city’s lakefront will be redesigned and renovated, and additional lighting will be installed on the train platform below the building, Metra announced.

The station, just south of the city’s downtown, is served by Metra’s Electric Line, once operated by the Illinois Central.

Metra CEO and Executive Director Don Orseno says the agency is contemplating the addition of a track crossover south of McCormick Place to enable Metra to turn around trains for additional and quicker service to the facility.

Metra will work with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which runs McCormick Place and popular Navy Pier, to implement the improvements.

Officials say they plan to have the upgrades done by November to serve the new Wintrust Arena, adjacent to McCormick Place, where the DePaul University’s basketball team will play.

Pier authority officials plan to convert the existing waiting area space to a business-class waiting room with modern seating, charging stations, Wi-Fi and upgraded flooring. Metra will install digital signs and a sound system to allow customers to hear train announcements without having to travel to the platform area below.

“Together, we recognize the need for some improvements to make the station more inviting, especially for the thousands of conventioneers who stay at hotels near Millennium Station,” Orseno says.

“It takes one six-car Metra train to transport the same number of people that 20 buses can carry. Our service has served McCormick Place well in the past and we expect ridership to increase dramatically in the years to come.”

But Metra’s announcement drew some hesitancy, even from the agency’s own board of directors.

Ken Koehler, one of Metra’s 11 directors, said the agency will have to provide much more frequent service to McCormick Place to lure convention-goers onto trains instead of taking other modes of transportation.

“It won’t make much difference unless we have better service,” Koehler said, recommending service every 10 minutes during peak hours.

According to officials from the Pier authority and Metra, when a major trade show or convention is at McCormick Place, the Metra Electric Line could theoretically serve thousands of additional customers per day. In 2016, those shows generated nearly 37,000 trips and more than $126,000 in fare revenue.

“The McCormick Place Metra Electric Station serves as a gateway to the City of Chicago for people from around the nation and the world,” Pier authority CEO Lori T. Healey said in a statement. “With the new McCormick Place Hotel and Wintrust Arena opening this fall, we expect the demand for safe, quick, and convenient train service to continue to grow.”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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