Chicago (Metra) is desperately trying to come up with a way to use the EJ&E’s “Outer Belt” route as a commuter line. Probably not going to happen. They (CTA) have another plan for a “Circle Line” connecting all the radial lines that will run under the two major train stations. That probably won’t get built either. The CTA has a BRT plan to run a line along Ashland Ave that would do the same (without connecting to the train stations). That one might happen.
This line, the Regional Plan Association’s Regional Express (Triboro RX), is another circumferential line that would connect a lot of radial lines. Will it get built? Will any of the MTA’s capital projects get built? Well, probably, for the second question but I don’t know if this will be one of them.
As much as I’d like to see the train stay on its present route between Newton, Kans, and Albuequerque, NM, I don’t see how this will work.
BNSF is already to the point where they run so little traffic over it that they are content to let the line slowly degrade. In a way, this is sad because most of this line was once 90-mph territory thanks to the Automatic Train Stop system installed decades ago. But the 90-mph speed limit is long gone the ATS having been turned off a few years back. Almost all of BNSF’s traffic now moves through Woodward, Okla, Amarillo, and on to New Mexico via their “Transcon” that runs from Chicago and Los Angeles.
The cities and counties along the route certainly aren’t in a position to upgrade and maintain the line which means the states would have to kick in. Colorado is willing, but they want the train to detour from its present route to serve Pueblo and that would add a lot of time to an already long end-to-end trip.
Chicago’s RTA, part-time parent of the CTA, Pace, and Metra, has another new fare collection system. The CTA had tokens many years ago, then they and Pace went to magnetic stripe cards that either had a certain amount of cash on the card or was valid for a certain amount of time.
Then came a smart card that could be tapped instead of swiped, the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus (one of which could be tied to a credit card). I think those were also good on both CTA and Pace.
None of that was good enough, though, so now the CTA is spending $454,000,000 on another system, Ventra. This one comes as a fare card or as a Debit card (MasterCard branded).
Questions of waste, fraud, and abuse aside, tap in/tap out cards are clearly the future … at least until the next big thing. If we could just convince transit authorities to use the tap out feature. You could charge accurate distance-based fares, because you know the start and end of the trip, but more importantly for transit nerds, you’d have really accurate ridership data. Heck, you could even calculate revenue passenger-miles, something that isn’t possible with unlinked trips, the current standard. Very exciting. For a few of us.
Oh, and don’t try to pay your Metra commuter train fare with Ventra – for that, you still need to have a ticket, 10-ride punch card, or monthly pass. Or you can pay cash on board to the uniformed men that make their way through the coaches after each stop. Yes, really.