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Tips

As I mention elsewhere on this web site, I've been using Metra for the last two years as a commuter and for the last ten years as a Chicago area resident taking trips into the city. Since 1996 I have frequented the BNSF line from Hinsdale, and as of Fall 2007 I have been using the Union Pacific Northwest line and the North Central line. I'll keep an updated list of train riding tips that I find useful, and welcome suggested tips from users, just contact us.

  • Use the $5 weekend pass (best tip!)
    The $5 weekend pass is Metra's best kept secret (although the conductors and personnel will happily tell you about it). It allows you to travel to unlimited stops, unlimited number of times, throughout the whole weekend. More often than not the cost of the weekend pass will be far less than the cost of just buying a single one-way ticket.
    Well worth it, here's the info.

  • Avoid $2 on-train purchase charge
    Buy all tickets in the station to avoid $2 on-train charge. This only applies if the station ticket office is open at the time, otherwise there is no $2 on-train charge.

  • Use free protective plastic ticket holder
    If you are buying a ticket that you will use more than once (such as a weekend, 10-ride or monthly pass) ask the ticket counter clerk for a plastic ticket holder (they are free, just ask). This will help you keep track of tickets and they won't get damaged so easily.

  • Use your ticket on any line
    Use your ticket on any line regardless of where you bought your ticket! I've hopped among the lines and there's no way for them to know. The only issue arises when you attempt to travel through more zones than your ticket allows. Don't get on an express train for Zone E with your monthly pass for Zone D. They will call you on it and ask you to pay the fee for the extra distance.


    Line specific advice

  • BNSF line
    In general this is a good line, but in recent years it has had issues with being on time, particularly from the city going outbound. The BNSF trains will always have some cars that are very old (they have the brown seats and yellow walled interior). On express trains going into the city (my experience is from Hinsdale) these older cars will shake from side to side when going over the 10-15 bridges that you go over. This is a combination of the heightened speed, the aging rail cars, and the physical force of going over each bridge. If you want to read, write or do anything like that, beware of this violent experience and be wise to seek a rail car with blue interior, though not guaranteed to be smooth sailing either.

  • Union Pacific Northwest line
    A much smoother ride into the city from the suburbs and a much nicer view along the way of passing towns like Park Ridge, Arlington Heights, and the Chicago Tribune production building downtown. You'll also spend a good portion of the ride alongside I-90 and viewing the rush hour traffic as you cruise by those poor souls. The location of the Chicago Ogilvie final stop in the city is also nice because it is at a more central location near the loop than Union Station - so travellers are more likely to be close to their destination on this line.




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