NATO summit could shut down rail lines under McCormick Place
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org March 28, 2012 4:24PM
The 23rd St. South Shore Line McCormick Place Metra Station could be shut down during the May 20-21 NATO Summit. Photographed on Wednesday, March 28, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: April 30, 2012 8:27AM
The U.S. Secret Service is considering shutting down rail lines that run beneath McCormick Place during the May 20-21 NATO summit to protect world leaders meeting there, potentially inconveniencing thousands of commuters, transit officials said Wednesday.
The extraordinary security measure could impact the South Shore and Metra Electric lines as well as Amtrak and the Canadian National Railway. All four lines operate beneath the summit site where leaders from more than 50 nations will gather.
Those measures didn’t go down well with commuters making their way to Millennium Station trains during Wednesday’s evening rush hour.
“It kind of sucks because I have to come all the way from Homewood all the way up to Evanston,” said Ryan Rounds, 29, an administrative coordinator for Rotary International. “If I had to drive, it would be 180 miles [roundtrip]. I understand, but couldn’t they just tighten up security?”
Gerald Hanas, general manager of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District that operates the South Shore, said he’s pressuring the Secret Service for a final decision as soon as possible so 7,000 daily commuters can make alternative plans and labor agreements can be honored.
“The last couple of meetings, they were debating whether or not the Secret Service would allow trains to run under McCormick Place during the event. It’s an issue related to perimeter security — what level of activity would be allowed around McCormick Place,” Hanas said Wednesday.
“Our concern is our ability to get enough word out for passengers to plan their activities around the potential cessation of service. We would have to plan whether or not we would have a two-day layoff of train personnel and whether we could do that under the contract. Is there any federal agency that would reimburse us for those lost revenues and expenses we’d be forced to pay?”
If there is a rail shutdown, South Shore commuters will be on their own, Hanas said. A shuttle bus operation is out of the question, in part because sections of Lake Shore Drive and the Stevenson Expy. near McCormick Place could also be shut down for all or part of the summit, he said.
“Transferring to CTA buses at 57th Street wouldn’t work. There aren’t enough CTA buses. And given the complications of possible highway shutdowns, it would be very difficult to make something work,” he said.
The Metra Electric line stops at McCormick Place and operates 172 trains beneath the convention center serving more than 18,000 weekday commuters.
“We hope to be able to provide the same service, but until we get specific information from the Secret Service and Chicago Police Department, we won’t be able to tell our customers anything because we don’t know,” said Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile.
“It looks like it’ll be mid-April at the earliest before we get any firm information.”
Reile said the Rock Island line “parallels the Metra Electric to a point” and city stations have “complementary” CTA service.
“It’s not like there’s no rail line. It’s just not as convenient or as close,” Reile said.
She added, “I don’t think it’s gonna be that hard to let people know about a diversion for one weekday. Many of our diversions happen that day. If it’s more than one day for us, the entire city will be shut down.”
Secret Service spokesman George Ogilvie insisted that no decision has been made to shut down either rail lines operating beneath McCormick Place or the roadways that run past the convention center.
“Two to four weeks before the event, we should have a plan about what closures there will be. We’re still working with everybody to try to develop this plan,” he said.
Lynette Harris, 59, lives in Park Forest and commutes to downtown. Harris said she can understand the need for tight security during the NATO summit, but thinks commuters should be receive something in exchange for the inconvenience.
“If that’s what they think is necessary, then it’s not like they’re shutting down every line,” Harris said. “But I would rather they would compensate me in some kind of way.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported in January that a large security perimeter would prevent motorists from driving and parking on downtown streets during the NATO and G-8 summits, but specific boundaries dictated by the Secret Service would not be known until two to four weeks before the event.
The Coast Guard has also talked about restricting boat traffic on parts of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan during the summit.
President Barack Obama subsequently moved the G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David. The NATO summit remains a “National Special Security event,” a designation normally reserved for the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
Contributing: Stefano Esposito