Boarding at Davis Street. Metra's UP North line carried 374,000 riders in May, two-thirds of the pre-pandemic level.

The commuter train route that stops in Evanston is outpacing all other Metra rail lines in getting passengers back onto the rails.

Numbers were released at Wedneday’s Metra Board of Directors meeting.

In May of this year, the Union Pacific North line, with stations at Main Street, Davis Street, and Central Street, carried 66% of its weekday passenger load compared to the pre-COVID month of May 2019.

Metra CEO Jim Derwinski told the board in a memo that the entire commuter rail system has “seen a very solid recovery since the beginning of April.”

Metra Board of Directors meeting on Wednesday.

Derwinski’s memo noted that May 2023 saw “the highest monthly ridership since the start of the pandemic” across the entire Metra system, 2.8 million passenger trips.

But there’s still a long way to go to catch up to pre-COVID average of 6.3 million trips a month systemwide. More workers are now doing their jobs from home, and not commuting to an office in downtown Chicago.

Weekday ridership rebound across Metra’s 10 other lines this May ranged from 35%-57% of May 2019 levels.

The data also shows another ongoing trend. Ridership is lower on Mondays and Fridays system wide than on Tuesday, Wednesday andThursday. Many employers are only requiring in-person attendance three days a week.

But why is UP North rebounding at a faster rate than the rest of Metra? Evanston may be one of the reasons.

Norman Carlson, a retired Metra board member, is also the editor of a railroad magazine called “First and Fastest.”

In that publication, Carlson explains that schedule changes on UPN have made midday, non-rush-hour travel more convenient. Plus, unlike many other Metra lines that primarily serve bedroom suburbs, the North line stops in communities with large numbers of essential workers who lack the “work-at-home” flexibility of many white collar individuals.

“The perception,” Carlson writes, “is that this line serves the wealthy northern suburbs of Chicago.” That’s true, but Carlson also notes that UPN also stops in places with many blue collar workers who cannot do their jobs at home, and rely on the train to get to work — communities including Highwood, Zion, North Chicago, Waukegan and Evanston.

Metra spokesperson Mike Gillis adds that construction on the Kennedy Expressway may be “driving” some commuters off the highway and onto the train, although it’s not possible to quantify how many.

Federal COVID assistance has kept Metra and other transit agencies around the nation afloat since the pandemic started.

But that money won’t last forever.

Metra CFO John Morris told the RTA board that “the hole for 2025 has pretty much been closed,” and there should even be $38 million to carry over into early 2026.

However, Morris noted that “we have not by any means closed the 2026 hole. We just made a dent.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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