Metra ticket gallery updates
By Nicholas Rougeux, posted on August 27, 2023 in Web
Fifteen years have passed since the last official update on my Metra Ticket Gallery. An update is long overdue considering the number of tickets has grown dramatically to nearly 1,400. It’s about time I gave a new one about the latest additions and improvements.
During the 19 years I’ve ridden on Metra, I’ve been very fortunate to get in touch with many other collectors who have made generous contributions to my collection. Even the staff at Metra itself have been kind enough to contribute to my collection several times and include my letter about my gallery in their 30th anniversary newsletter (PDF) back in 2014. I’ve enjoyed meeting everyone and hearing their stories about riding the train or cultivating their collections. I’ll admit, I’ve felt a little strange meeting up with people in train stations and restaurants to exchange unmarked envelopes for plastic bags—as if making a nefarious deal—but everyone has been wonderful and I’ve enjoyed every encounter.
With the launch of the Ventra app in 2013, digital ticket sales have increased steadily and while paper tickets aren’t going away any time soon, their long-term future is likely limited. I’ll happily continue buying the paper tickets for as long as they’re available—partly because I want to continue to add to my collection but also because they add a welcomed bit of physicality in an increasingly digital world.
Blast from the past
Since I’ve used each ticket from 2004 onwards, my interest trends toward older tickets from before I started riding the train. I still enjoy seeing each new designs as they come out each month but there’s something almost magical about seeing older designs from the 1990s, 80s, and even 70s from before Metra was formed.
The biggest highlight is from my most recent trade with Cory, a fellow collector. He has a very impressive collection and was kind enough to trade me some of his older tickets from the 70s and 80s for duplicates of mine from recent years.
Among the tickets I received from him were 10 Burlington Northern Railroad tickets from the 1978 and 1979 have quickly become some of my favorites for their bold and unique design. Metra wasn’t formed until 1984 so these tickets technically aren’t “Metra tickets” but I included them and other older tickets in the gallery because they’re monthly tickets from a train line that would eventually become Metra. Since the 90s, designs on Metra tickets have been very detailed with ornate patterns, illustrations, or photos but these tickets from ‘78 and ‘79 stand out for their bold simplistic design. I love the strong typography showing the valid zones of travel (A and B) and the splashes of color from the diagonal stripes on an otherwise plain design. Splashes of color made a resurgence from 2009 to 2015 with pastel backgrounds but they didn’t hold a candle to these early predecessors.
Also included in the tickets I traded with Cory were tickets from 1971 through 1980 from Burlington Northern and Chicago Northwestern trains. Until I saw these, I had only one ticket from 1973 of a similar style and longed for more. I was thrilled when I saw these other designs. The ones for Burlington Northern with the massive thin numbers were printed on very thick stock and have an ornate pattern behind them. The bold sans seif typefaces used are quite nice. The others from Chicago Northwestern are varying shades of pastels with a mix of serif and sans serif typefaces and include several large logos behind them.
A significant contribution to my collection came in the form of many tickets made for the turnstiles on the Metra Electric line (formerly Illinois Central). These tickets were magnetized and had a unique style that continued for decades. The ones I have in my collection range from 1981 through 2003 and have become a little fragile over the years as the magnetic material they’re printed on ages. More pictures and information available at Chicago Transit & Railfan.
For a brief period in the late 90s, monthly tickets featured detailed illustrations of many stations throughout the Metra system as well as when they were constructed. These are some of my favorites because of the beautiful detail that comes with the line-based style of illustrations. They only lasted for two years from 1997 to 1998 so not all stations were illustrated.
In the early 90s, ticket designs varied significantly with new typography and visual styles appearing each month. I can’t say these are some of my favorites but I recognize that this may have been in an effort to curb counterfeiting. However, I do enjoy some of the typography from the 1990s tickets. I owe a big thanks to fellow collector John for these and others.
Filling the gaps
Like many other Chicagoans, I stopped commuting into the city when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Wanting to continue my collection, I contacted Metra to see if they could send me any old unused tickets each month. It was an unusual request and I managed to get one ticket but couldn’t get more. I resumed commuting in June 2021 for a new job but had a noticeable gap from March 2020 until then.
Fortunately, I contacted them again recently and they were able to help me fill in some of the gaps. A few trades with Cory as mentioned above also helped fill in others. The only month I’m missing from that period is April 2021 but I was very happy to fill in most of the gaps.
When I first designed the gallery, I only had one of each ticket so I kept the design simplistic by arranging the tickets by year and showing one ticket for each month. As the collection grew and I started acquiring more variations of tickets, I continued showing one per month but displaying the variations of tickets when they were clicked.
This design worked fine but meant that a significant portion of the collection was hidden, including some of the more interesting designs. With the recent additions, I decided this was a good time to give the gallery a facelift to make the ticket designs more accessible.
The new design showcases all tickets for each year rather than just one for each month. Tickets are still shown in chronological order but also numerical order for duplicates and variations so changes in design are more easily seen. Thumbnails images are also larger than before and tickets can now be viewed as a slideshow to reduce the clicks needed to explore each design.
When I started riding the train, I had no intention of collecting tickets and certainly never imagined that nearly 20 years later, I would have a collection approaching 1,400. It’s been a great journey over the years and I’m looking forward to continuing it. My sincerest thanks goes out to my fellow collectors and Metra staff that have helped me build my collection: Thank you John, Cory, Helen, Denise, Louine, Tom, Michael, David, Robert, Katie, Elizabeth, Michelle, and more whose names I may have forgotten.
I’m always on the lookout for more tickets so if anyone has any or knows someone who has any is willing to sell or trade, please let me know.