The Metropolitan Rail Corporation or Metra in Chicago is a train system that connects the suburbs to the city of Chicago. It goes past about 241 train stations and is broken up into 11 different lines. One even crossed the border into Wisconsin. It’s a relatively easy train system to use, once you know where you’re going and what line you’ll need to take. Most of the trains start downtown in Chicago at Ogilvie Transportation Center (OTC) or Union Station which happen to be right next to one another. There are 3 other stations, the LaSalle Street Station at 414 South LaSalle Street, the Van Buren Station at Michigan Avenue near the park between Jackson and Van Buren, and Millennium Station which is also on Michigan Avenue but is further north between South Water and Randolph Street.
Union Station is huge and mostly underground with plenty of different entrances. It opened in 1925 and is located at South Riverside Plaza. It’s not just where you’d catch a metra train to the suburbs but also where amtrak is, and across the street is the sidewalk where Megabus picks up. It’s a rather beautiful station depending on where you’re at in it. The majority of the metra lines can be found at this station.
Ogilvie Transportation Center is across from one of the Union Station exits and across the river from the Chicago opera house. Ogilvie is a lot smaller than Union station serving only about 3 Metra lines and probably much more like a mall. It includes the Citigroup Center and is located at 500 West Madison street. Ogilvie can be kind of confusing depending on which entrance you go in. It’s connected to the French market which is underneath the train tracks and the stairs up to the trains will put you in-between the train tracks. Which is perfect if you have a train ticket. The trains and tickets are on the second level of the station. There’s a couple different restaurants in the station and a food court as well as some shops.
Tickets can be a bit confusing. If there’s a ticket window where you’re starting buy a ticket or else theres a $3 fee. The downtown stations always tend to be selling tickets, but some of the stations don’t, especially on weekends. If the ticket window is closed then there isn’t a fee. Weekends are the cheapest time to travel on the Metra, the $8 ticket will get you onto any train no matter how often for that Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the week it depends on where you’re going and where you’re starting from. So let’s say you want to go to Mitsuwa, which is in Arlington Heights in Zone E on the Union Pacific Northwest train line. One way, to just get there from Chicago, is about $6. The further out you want to get, say zone M, end of the line is $10.25 one way. It can get pretty expensive. So if there’s a specific place you want to go, a lot, it may be cheaper to get a 10 ride or a month pass. The 10 ride to visit Mitsuwa is $54, while it’s month pass is $171. Though note that month passes are weird, if you need a month pass you have to do that yourself because it’s more like a badge you show when the conductor walks past. It has a persons gender and some other information on it. The other passes just get hole punches in them. There are discounts but those only apply to certain groups, i.e students in grade or high school (and home schooled but not college), U.S. military, kids, seniors and people with disabilities. Also note that the price tends to rise a bit more often then the CTA.
The benefits to the Metra though, are that they’re clean and relatively efficient. The doors tend to open about a half hour before departure at the main downtown stations, and some trains during rush hour have quiet cars. They can get pretty crowded around rush hour, but not nearly as bad as the CTA. Instead of being crammed standing with people there’s a chance you might just have to stand in the platform by the doors to get off. The trains have two levels, an upper level that’s great for putting your stuff on the rack, or a lower level that’s great to sit with other people, you can even adjust the seats if you have four people. I always grab a pamphlet at the stations downtown for the train line I’m taking. That way if I get really into a book I’m reading and miss hearing a couple stop I can pull it out and check out the time I should be arriving and see how close we are to the station I need to get off at. It also helps so that you can double check that you’re not about to accidentally get onto a express train that won’t be going to your station. That hasn’t ever happened to me getting on from Ogilvie or Union Station since I check the signs next to each train saying which stops it’s going to, but I have gotten on at a station midway down the line without those signs on it and found that it didn’t stop where I was going. So I pulled out that pamphlet and found out where I could get off and catch a train that wouldn’t be skipping the stop I needed. I’ve taken the metra to visit family and friends and even to do an interview. They can be confusing at first, especially if the announcements on the train are quiet, but usually the announce the stops clear enough for you to hear.