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updated: 11/3/2011 9:17 PM

Metra service to Elgin expected to resume Friday

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  • Smoke rises from a three-car train derailment near the Elgin-Bartlett border Thursday morning. Two of the cars that derailed contained hazardous materials, though officials say no chemicals were released.

       Smoke rises from a three-car train derailment near the Elgin-Bartlett border Thursday morning. Two of the cars that derailed contained hazardous materials, though officials say no chemicals were released.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Smoke rises from a three-car train derailment near the Elgin-Bartlett border Thursday morning. Two of the cars that derailed contained hazardous materials, though officials say no chemicals were released.

       Smoke rises from a three-car train derailment near the Elgin-Bartlett border Thursday morning. Two of the cars that derailed contained hazardous materials, though officials say no chemicals were released.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Smoke rises from a three-car train derailment near the Elgin-Bartlett border Thursday morning. Two of the cars that derailed contained hazardous materials, though officials say no chemicals were released.

       Smoke rises from a three-car train derailment near the Elgin-Bartlett border Thursday morning. Two of the cars that derailed contained hazardous materials, though officials say no chemicals were released.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Cleanup starts Thursday along the Milwaukee District West Line which was shut down in both directions near Elgin after 22 cars of a Canadian National freight train went off the tracks about 5:30 a.m.

       Cleanup starts Thursday along the Milwaukee District West Line which was shut down in both directions near Elgin after 22 cars of a Canadian National freight train went off the tracks about 5:30 a.m.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Train derailment in suburbs

  • Video: Freight train derailment

  • Train derailment site

    Graphic: Train derailment site

  • Train derailment site

    Graphic: Train derailment site

  • Train derailment site

    Graphic: Train derailment site

  • Train derailment site

    Graphic: Train derailment site

  • Train derailment site

    Graphic: Train derailment site

  • Train derailment site

    Graphic: Train derailment site

 
 

It was around 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning when a frightening sound snapped Bartlett resident Leslie Andrle out of a deep sleep.

"It was a loud boom ... like something just wasn't right, like it was a rough turn of a train or something," said Andrle, who lives by the ninth hole of the Villa Olivia Country Club.

Moments later, the sounds of sirens and hovering news helicopters filled the air.

What Andrle and other Bartlett residents heard was 22 cars of a Canadian National freight train careening off the rails near Gifford and Spaulding roads at the Elgin-Bartlett border.

No injuries were reported.

The accident, which occurred close to where a Metra line intersects with a former EJ&E line now owned by Canadian National, disrupted service on Metra's Milwaukee District West Line all day Thursday, but Metra expected to have trains running to Elgin on Friday.

"Essentially, Milwaukee West commuters can expect service tomorrow," said Metra spokesman Tom Miller. A service update was posted at metra.com Thursday evening. Riders should expect delays of 20 to 30 minutes, as commuter trains would find "slow going around the derailment," Miller said.

Canadian National spokesman Patrick Waldron said the cause of the derailment -- which involved a single 120-car northbound freight train traveling from Gary, Ind., to Fond du Lac, Wis. -- is unknown and that an investigation is ongoing. Thursday evening he said the railway was concentrating on clearing at least one track for Metra trains.

But Chip Pew, director of the Illinois Commerce Commission's railroad safety program Operation Lifesaver, said preliminary indications are that a piece of broken rail contributed to the accident.

Two of the derailed cars were tankers that contained hazardous materials in liquid form -- sodium hydroxide, or lye, and ferrous sulfite -- but no chemicals were released as a result of the derailment, authorities said.

Three other derailed cars caught on fire. One contained scrap metal, another fiberboard, and one was empty. Fire crews extinguished the fire by Thursday afternoon.

Bartlett Fire Chief Michael Falese said water from hose lines created the impression there was a vapor cloud, but it was merely mist.

"At no time was there any vapor cloud whatsoever, or any danger to the community, or even our people on the scene in regards to the hazardous materials," Falese said.

The derailment occurred in an industrial area, which limited the danger to residents.

Bartlett Village President Michael Kelly said while police deemed the area around the crash site to be safe, officials were prepared to evacuate people in a mobile home park near the tracks if necessary.

"That's a very key portion of our community and that's very important to me that those people are safe," Kelly said.

Metra said about 11,000 people use the Milwaukee District West Line daily, but those most affected by the derailment were the 2,000 or so riders who use the three Elgin stops west of Bartlett that were closed Thursday. Service east of Bartlett also was affected because several trains still were parked in Elgin when the derailment occurred and couldn't be used.

While shuttle buses were running from the Bartlett train station to Elgin, none were going from Elgin to Bartlett, leaving commuters scrambling.

Richard Lawson, a recently laid-off warehouse manager from Joliet, came to Elgin in hopes of selling his plasma for $40. His plan was to use the money to turn his cellular phone back on. But that plan didn't pan out because his blood needed to be tested first.

Then, an already disappointed Lawson found himself stuck at Metra's Big Timber Road station in Elgin. But he, along with his bike, managed to hitch a ride to the Bartlett train station with perfect strangers who had come to the station to pick up their stranded daughter.

"Praise God some Christians gave me a ride," said Lawson, who began his commute at 5 a.m. in Aurora, taking two buses to get to Elgin.

Bill Pelz of Chicago teaches history at Elgin Community College and was late to work by the time he got the bus from Bartlett. He ended up rescheduling some meetings, with plans to stay in Elgin until the trains started running again.

But after he received notice that Metra suspended its service to and from Elgin, he called one of his ECC colleagues and got a ride to the Bartlett station, where he boarded the train that left at 11:40 a.m. He planned to spend the rest of his day working from home.

Pelz has been taking the Metra train to ECC for more than 10 years and knows to expect the unexpected.

"I'm kind of going with the flow," Pelz said. "I mean, these things happen."

Transportation for Elgin Area School District U-46 was also affected, resulting in district officials sending out a recorded message Thursday morning warning of busing delays as the district scrambled to route buses around closed roads.

John Heiderscheidt, the district's coordinator of school safety and security, said of the 26,000 students in the district eligible for transportation, perhaps 30 were late.

• Staff writers Lenore Adkins, Larissa Chinwah, Marni Pyke and Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.

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