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Is this any way to run a railroad?

Updated: August 11, 2013 6:39AM

There is much to like about Metra — the trains run on time, generally. They’re clean, for the most part.

And even a few things to love — the scenes of Chicago that go clickity-clacking by. The Thomas the Tank Engine conductors, with their gentle quirks and quiet dignity — or, in some cases, their outright strangeness and loud absence of dignity.

Until recently, one of the things to like about Metra was the price — it was a bargain, especially if you bought a 10-pass. Then prices started going up.

Which could be accepted as the rising cost of the things you like and love — the clean, on-time trains, the quaint and/or crazy conductors.

Except now comes something about Metra that everyone — riders and conductors alike — can truly hate: the $700,000-plus payoff given to former CEO Alex Clifford.

This wasn’t the price of getting top-notch talent. It wasn’t in his contract. And to add insult to injury, the panjandrums at Metra defend the boondoggle — Metra’s chairman says he has “no regrets.” Well, we sure do. Lots of regrets. What rider doesn’t regret paying more to subsidize such self-justifying, ham-handed ineptness?

We get that Metra is in crisis. But the only way it can hope to start getting better is to stop trying to bury its mistakes under trainloads of money.

The board did not get off the hook for its $700,000-plus — it’s scary they thought they might. The money, if indeed it gets spent, will be wasted. That might be OK with Metra brass. But that is not OK to a struggling electorate. The Metra system works surprisingly well, considering the boneheads who run it. Now it’s time for Metra executives to stop defending their expensive folly and start working well, too.

Begin by telling the truth. The truth not only sets you free — it is free.

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