How Metra computes on-time performance and schedules trains

Publication Date
Thursday, March 16, 2017
While safety will always be Metra’s highest priority, on-time performance is a close second. We understand that our customers expect the highest levels of service and are dedicated to doing all we can to deliver them to their destinations on time, every time. We are very proud that we continue to achieve on-time performance goals that have been standard in the railroad industry for longer than Metra has existed. Click here to see our latest on-time performance reports.

How We Schedule Our Trains

For Metra and other commuter railroads, developing train schedules is not an exact science. We don’t always get it right. That’s why we periodically adjust schedules to better reflect actual operating conditions. In the months ahead, we expect to use real-time data that is now available to us to help design the best schedules possible. However, there will always be variations that can cause trains to be delayed.
That’s because Metra’s schedules are designed to be most successful in “best case,” normal operating conditions. In other words, if Metra picked up the exact same number of people every day, from the same exact location, and they all used the exact same doors, in the same weather, with the same equipment, etc., then it would be easy to stay on schedule and hit every stop within a minute of the schedule. To not design schedules based on these conditions would result in increased idling time in between stations and longer overall train trips on days when conditions are normal.
Unfortunately, every day, there are scores of unpredictable variations from those perfect conditions that can have small but cascading impacts on Metra’s schedule. These variations can occur for a host of reasons – from the need to deploy a wheelchair lift, to an unusual number of riders at one or more stops to a medical emergency. Other factors that impact schedules include rain and snow, which can easily slow boarding, freight interference issues and mechanical problems. The list goes on.

How We Measure Delay

Like other commuter railroads, Metra considers a train to have operated on time if it reaches its final destination within five minutes and 59 seconds of its scheduled arrival. Years ago, railroads across the nation decided that delays of less than six minutes would not be factored into a railroad’s on-time performance. The idea was to use that threshold to filter out some of the delays that are beyond a railroad’s control, so they resulting rate is a truer reflection of the railroad’s efforts to control the delays that are controllable. The goal is to use this information to ultimately improve service. And, we believe this approach provides us with relevant information to measure how we are doing and where we need to improve.
But that doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to keep on schedule at all of our stations and stops. We understand that delays at intermediate stops can be just as important to our customers as our ability deliver a train to its final destination on time.

How We Work to Keep Customers Informed

 Our goal is to work as hard as we can to provide safe, reliable and comfortable service, while providing honest and accurate information to our customers about the status of their trains.
That is one of the reasons Metra has made significant investments in technology aimed at helping our customers access the real-time data they need to make informed travel decisions.  Today, our customers have a variety of ways to learn if their train is on time.
Our email alerts allow customers to select a window during which they want to receive real-time information about operational issues. Our online Rail-Time Tracker tool provides real-time information about schedules and the status of trains. The new Ventra app we launched this fall features transit trackers for all three agencies, providing real-time information about Metra trains, CTA buses and trains and Pace buses. Our customers can follow each of Metra’s 11 rail lines on Twitter and get up-to-the-minute status updates on their train schedule. And, of course, customers can call Passenger Services at 312-322-6777 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with questions about their train schedule.