Metra to passengers: Be patient as we ride out cold-related delays
BY MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporter January 9, 2014 8:12AM
Updated: February 11, 2014 6:18AM
After a week full of cancellations and delays, officials with Metra pleaded for understanding from riders Thursday as they held a railyard demonstration to show the challenges workers face in keeping switches clear of ice.
Workers using snow blowers, picks, brooms and shovels cleared chunks of ice and snow from the metal crevices of a switch at a railyard near Grand and Western in Chicago — several hours before evening rush.
The switches must be de-iced so the devices can transfer trains from one track to another.
“That one switch could cause a backup on the line that affects five or six trains,” Metra spokesman Meg Reile said.
Normally it will take two workers about 15 to 20 minutes to clear a switch.
On top of that, trains are required to slow down in subzero temperatures, Reile added.
Vibrations that occur as trains pass over switches dislodge chunks of ice from underneath trains that become wedged in the switches, said Metra maintenance engineer Larry Powell.
About 250 workers have been scrambling to maintain 2,000 switches in nine railyards.
Out of an abundance of caution, switches in rail yards are manually flipped, said Reile.
Subzero temperatures this week have triggered delays during the morning and evening commutes.
Switching and mechanical problems — as well as at least two cars stuck on the tracks — caused delays and a few cancellations on several Metra lines during the Thursday morning commute.
Both inbound and outbound trains on the BNSF line were experiencing delays of up to 30 minutes because of switching problems and train congestion, according to Metra’s website. A handful of BNSF trains were canceled.
On the Union Pacific/West Line, trains were delayed up to 75 minutes because of mechanical problems, according to Metra’s website.
Several inbound trains on the Union Pacific/Northwest Line were also delayed up to 20 minutes Thursday morning because two cars were stuck on the tracks at different locations, Metra spokesperson Tom Miller said earlier in the day.