CHICAGO - Remember those agonizing two-hour waits for a cab or bus at McCormick Place? Well, forget about it! A Metra train now whisks visitors from a trade show to the Loop in seven minutes. The Chicago trade show and convention complex has moved into the modern age of commuter rail. Construction of the 840,000-square-foot South Building open-ed up access to a little-used Metra train station under 23rd Street, promising easier access to downtown hotels and nightspots for visitors at plastics-related events like NPE, Plastics USA, Pack Expo and the National Design Engineer-ing Show.
One of the first shows to use the train was this year's Inter-national Housewares Show, held in January. Attendees followed signs through an area still under construction, down ramps and stairways, to get to the loading platform.
``It was the first show that took hold of the concept to really try and push Metra as an option,'' said Phyllis Podgorski, a market development official at Metra.
Train rides were free to attendees; the National Housewares Manufacturers Association paid for the service. At numerous in-formation desks, attendees could pick up a schedule, map and a free four-day pass.
Conductors helped in explaining the two stops out of McCormick Place, Van Buren Street and Randolph Street, in the Loop.
Leaving the Randolph Street Station, show visitors could walk to hotels or pick up cabs - a far cry from the crush of humanity in the underground loading area at McCormick at the end of a major show.
Metra reports nearly 3,000 rides were given during the housewares show. The show drew 58,197 people. To help exhibitors move in, Metra added extra Sunday trains. Trains ran about every 10 minutes at the end of each day.
Podgorski said the 23rd Street Station always was there, but it had been hidden and had an aging wooden structure.
``With the construction at McCormick Place, with all the expansion going on, they demolished the old station and they put in a brand new platform,'' she said.
Podgorski hopes sponsors of other major Chicago shows also will promote the commuter train. Metra plans to add ticket vending machines at the platform.
The station should be completed early next year, she said.