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updated: 1/14/2013 4:05 AM

Readers lament Amtrak delays, baggage bedlam

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  • Traffic is heavy in both directions during the morning rush looking east on I-90, east of the Des Plaines Oasis. The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority will widen the tollway during the next four years.

       Traffic is heavy in both directions during the morning rush looking east on I-90, east of the Des Plaines Oasis. The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority will widen the tollway during the next four years.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

 
 

Judging from recent letters, it's been a season of discontent for In Transit readers stymied in their simple desire to get from Point A to Point B without incident.

Ideally, I would possess an engineering degree, a backhoe and a cement truck to fix everyone's transportation bÍte noires. Failing that, I can at least provide some answers to your questions.

Let's start with Bob Schayer of Lake Zurich, who thinks Amtrak fumbled big time when he took Train 352 to Detroit Dec. 29 to see his beloved Bears play the Lions.

"Train left Union Station two hours, 20 minutes late due to mechanical problems," Schayer wrote. That delay was compounded when the train "stopped in the middle of nowhere between Wayne and Dearborn. We were told the crew had run out of hours. Some of the folks on the train considered calling the Michigan State Police. We sat there in a sea of ignorance."

Schayer arrived in Detroit nearly four hours late. He complained to Amtrak and received a travel voucher, not the refund he wanted. "What irks me is the politicians who thump their chests and brag about all the money that is spent for 110 mph trains and yet we're still operating this broken-down system at extreme expense to the taxpayers," Schayer said.

Well, I have no answers regarding chest-thumping politicians. But Amtrak's Marc Magliari apologized for the delay. He confirmed that the mechanical problems caused the train crew to exceed their mandated 12-hour shifts and Amtrak had to bring in replacements. "In no way is it a common occurrence," he said. Refunds, Magliari added, are issued when trains do not arrive at their destinations. The voucher acknowledges that a trip was less than perfect and is an incentive for passengers to use Amtrak again.

Interestingly, Train 352's on-time performance was 55 percent in December and 31.5 percent last year, mainly because of freight traffic or track and signal problems. But Michigan is upgrading portions of the route for high-speed rail reaching 110 mph and that is why "there's reason to be optimistic for further improvements on this route," Magliari said.

Bright idea

Kevin Coward wants to know if the streetlights at Route 20 and McLean Boulevard in Elgin are just there for decoration. "Why are they not lit?" he asked. "It would be helpful, since the traffic patterns are slightly different due to the construction."

The intersection is undergoing major construction, and Elgin police Cmdr. Glenn Theriault explained that IDOT (which has jurisdiction over Route 20) is resolving some utility issues. "They are planning on having repairs completed within the next 60 days or so. Certainly by the end of March, the repairs will be done and the lights lit," Theriault said. "It's a major and significant project and not everything goes to plan."

Widening when?

Jay Kuchel is curious about the Illinois tollway's expansion plans for the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90), part of its 15-year, $12 billion road building program. "I don't really understand how the widening project is being undertaken. Will you please help me out?" he asked.

"Illinois Tollway will deliver a dramatic facelift to I-90 by rebuilding and widening 62 miles between Rockford and O'Hare with eight lanes from the Kennedy Expressway to Randall Road and six lanes from Randall Road to I-39," spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.

"For this project, I-90 is divided into two segments for planning, design and construction purposes: the western segment spanning approximately 37 miles from Rockford to Elgin and the eastern segment spanning 25 miles from Elgin to Chicago. Advance work on the western segment, consisting of shoulder widening, was completed in 2012. Mainline construction in the western segment is scheduled for 2013-2014, with work planned in the eastbound lanes in 2013 and the westbound lanes in 2014. On the eastern segment, advance work is scheduled to begin in 2014, with mainline construction scheduled for 2015-2016."

Temperamental signals

Bobby Xhilone is fed up with finicky traffic lights at Randall and Hopps roads in Elgin. For drivers turning onto Hopps from southbound Randall -- "if your vehicle is not actually touching the white line (or very nearly so), the left-turn arrow will not be activated, so you are stuck waiting through yet another light. This has been the case ever since they 'redid' that intersection seven or eight years ago," Xhilone said.

County maintenance staff will investigate, Kane County Traffic Section Manager Tom Szabo said. It could be that one of the loops or sensors that alert the traffic signal when cars are present has failed, he noted. A typical traffic signal has three loops that extend as far back as 30 feet from the stop.

"If it's an issue where we need to put in an additional loop, we'll do it," Szabo said.

'Constant vigilance'

... is actually a quote from a Harry Potter character about evildoers but could well apply to travelers booking airfares online. One frustrated reader contacted us after his attempt to pay for checked bags online failed. He called the airline seeking help only to end up paying more because it was done over the phone. We checked in with the U.S. Department of Transportation who said the airline had not violated any rules.

The lesson is -- constant vigilance. When chatting on the phone with airline customer service, make sure it's not costing you. And, here's a nifty link to the government's airline consumer complaint division: www.dot.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint.

Got a question or comment? Email me at mpyke@dailyherald.com.

Your voice

I received a boxcar of emails about my December series on rail safety. Here's a sampling:

• Terry Tallian of Wood Dale writes, "I started riding the Milwaukee West Line in April 1978. I have seen a steep decline in people acting (responsibly) around the railroad tracks. When I started riding, the train would never slow down when passing other trains, they'd just sound the horn and people would stay out of the way. I rode for many years before I was ever on a train involved in an accident. I have since been on four. All in much more recent times.

"People these days have a 'me' mentality; the world revolves around them, the train will stop for 'me,' etc. What they should do is post pictures of accidents at crossings. Maybe at least some people would take notice."

• Wheeling resident Anne Hedleston commutes downtown from the Mount Prospect train station on Metra's UP Northwest Line. "What amazes me is that just about every morning as I wait for my No. 618 train at 7:22, I will see people run to make the crossing to the center platform toward Eastman Avenue, in FRONT of the train, rather than going toward Elmhurst Road to come around the back of the train as the gates are already down and the train is pulling into the station," she said.

"I can't help thinking that no matter what programs are put in place, or barricades are put up, or location of crossing platforms, there are still going to be people ignoring them and either not paying attention or too rushed to care if they are in harm's way."

• Ben Hecht of Carol Stream just wants a little common sense around railway tracks. "Goodness, when I was teaching my kids to drive, one of the first lessons they were taught was to ALWAYS HAVE ENOUGH MOMENTUM TO GET ACROSS THE TRACKS IN CASE THE CAR DIES," Hecht said. "That was after making sure there is more than sufficient space on the other side of the tracks so you don't get stuck on the tracks. C'mon, people, THIS IS DRIVING 101!!!"

Upcoming

Are you a suburban biker or hiker? You may want to drop by the latest Bicycle Friendly Community Advocates meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Roselle Public Works building, 474 Congress Circle North. Speakers include folks from the Illinois Prairie Path, DuPage County Forest Preserve District, Active Transportation Alliance and Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider. For more info, contact Terry Witt at Spin Doctor Cyclewerks in Bartlett at (630) 289-7360 or Roselle Public Works Director Rob Burns at (630) 980-2360.

• Want more transportation news? Check out www.facebook.com/#!/pykeintransit or twitter.com/DHInTransit.

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