In this violent summer in Chicago, it's the last thing a family would want to see happen. But after a suburban family complained that their teenage daughter was thrown off a Metra train in an unknown neighborhood in the dark of night when she couldn't come up with the proper fare, Metra says it won't happen again.
"It was handled improperly," says Deputy Executive Director Peter Zwolfer.
Metra says its conductors have the option to take the names and addresses of passengers who don't have the proper fare, so that they can be billed later, and that no passenger is to be ejected from a train unless police are present. Until Friday, Metra says, the Union Pacific Railroad, which operates the line, gave conductors latitude to eject passengers at the next stop.
Last month, 19 year old Adriane Falagario was removed from a Union Pacific train after she boarded at Clybourn Avenue and discovered she did not have the proper fare.
"Pretty sternly, and pretty ice cold, he said, 'Well you can get off at the next stop,'" she said. "He was extremely stern, extremely rude, very short with me from the very second he came up to me, asking if I had a ticket."
"'Go find an ATM and then get back on the train,'" she says the conductor told her. But then she says he confirmed that another train would not be due for another hour.
"'Yep, in an hour,' he said. Go find an ATM. Make sure you get off at the next stop.'"
In less than a minute, the young woman says the train stopped, and she was ordered to get off at the Jefferson Park station. It was 11 p.m.
"The train literally went away and I was standing in the dark, on a platform and I didn't know what station I was at!"
Finding herself alone, on foot, wandering a neighborhood she had never seen before, the young woman called her frantic parents, and her father made the trip into Chicago to pick her up.
"Her personal safety was at issue," said the girl's mother, Elizabeth Falagario. "At night, an individual girl, on a train, I don't think, should be kicked off."
Metra says it agrees.
"I believe it was mishandled," said Pete Zwolfer, the agency's deputy executive director. And he said Metra's boss, Executive Director Don Orseno, called the family personally to apologize.
"He let that family know from the top down this wasn't handled correctly, and we apologize, and we're going to improve on that area."
What's more, Zwolfer says Union Pacific has agreed to bring its policy in line with Metra's, putting people off of trains only if police are present.
"They actually listened, and actually immediately changed that part of their policy," he said.
Indeed, Felagario says a UP official called last Friday, apologizing for what had happened, and promising that conductors would be retrained to better understand what options were and weren't available in such situations.
In a statement, the railroad said it's normal practices were not followed.
"The wrong decision was made," said Wes Lujan, Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs. "We will re-evaluate our practices and policies to make sure this doesn't happen again. Union Pacific Railroad and our employees who operate our Metra trains are truly sorry for what happened."