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updated: 1/7/2014 11:15 AM

Metra warns of issues for morning commute

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  • An outbound Metra gets lost in the blowing snow as a man walks to the Arlington Heights train station in subfreezing temperatures Monday morning.

       An outbound Metra gets lost in the blowing snow as a man walks to the Arlington Heights train station in subfreezing temperatures Monday morning.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Traffic on Route 53 Monday was slow going.

       Traffic on Route 53 Monday was slow going.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Commuters talk about the cold

 
 

Metra riders recovering from a miserable and frigid commute Monday could experience more of the same today, with officials already warning of fewer trains on the BNSF Line.

Temperatures topped out at 11 degrees below zero overnight, but are expected to climb to single digits later in the day.

Metra announced numerous trains would operate on a reduced schedule Tuesday and asked passengers to check for details before leaving home.

Metra announced that 14 trains were canceled on the BSNF Line operating from Aurora to Chicago, and four from the Union Pacific Line running to Chicago from Kenosha. In addition, three trains on the Union Pacific West Line and four trains on the Union Pacific Northwest Line were shut down.

People can see if there trains are affected by plugging into metrarail.com.

"At this point all other Metra lines are expected to operate their normal weekday schedules," spokesman Michael Gillis said. "However, due to weather conditions riders of those lines can expect delays and there could be annulments. They should also continue to check Metra's website for the latest information."

A treacherous combination of frigid temperatures and ice caused accidents, frozen switches, equipment failures and unexpected messups on numerous routes Monday morning.

At the Arlington Heights Metra station Monday night, Madlen Epcemian, of Chicago, said it took her nearly four hours to get from downtown Chicago to her job in Northbrook that morning because of accidents and electrical delays. She and the other commuters stood in the cold Ogilvie Transportation Center with no clue about what was going on.

"(The conductors) were saying, 'Don't ask me. I don't know,'" Epcemian said. "The trains were there, but they wouldn't open the doors to let people in and sit. And it was cold."

Despite the hassles of Monday's commute, she plans to take Metra again Tuesday.

"I'm going to work. If my colleagues are working, then there's no reason I shouldn't be there," she said. "I'm not mad. It's just, that's life."

When Ashley Zunkel of Lombard exited her train in Arlington Heights, it was so cold the doors didn't open all the way. Zunkel, 18, and the other passengers had to squeeze through a 2-foot opening to get out. Then, Zunkel had to wait outside in the brutal cold for her ride because the Metra station was locked.

"It was cold and stressful," she said of her trip from Cary.

In some cases, the commute proved more than that. On the Milwaukee North Line near Touhy Avenue in Chicago, a train struck a semitrailer truck and caused a domino effect on the rest of the service. In addition, two Rock Island Line trains struck a post separately, sending six passengers to the hospital with minor injuries in one case.

One Union Pacific Northwest Line commuter told the Daily Herald via Facebook his trip to work was three hours and counting.

"Despite our best efforts with switch heaters and extra people, with such extreme weather, we are having issues," Metra spokesman Tom Miller said Monday.

Passengers got little relief heading home Monday afternoon with cancellations and schedule changes.

Particularly hard hit during the afternoon rush was the BNSF Line with eight fewer outbound trains and Union Pacific with 19 fewer trains.

Service on the South Shore Line into Indiana was suspended completely because of blizzardlike conditions.

On the roads, ice and snow turned some cars into bobsleds, with numerous accidents reported on Route 53 in DuPage and Cook counties. In Kane County, portions of Route 47 north of Route 64 experienced blowing snow that created drifts "as high as a car," sheriff's police Lt. Pat Gengler said.

"Depending on where you were, some roads were particularly bad due to blowing and drifting snow," IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller said. IDOT's advice for people was "stay off the roads unless it's absolutely necessary," she added.

Gengler added that, "motorists need to make sure they have a full tank of gas, charged cellphones, layers of clothes and any other essential items they may need in the event they are stranded for an extended period of time."

At O'Hare and Midway International airports, fliers Monday also experienced weather-related angst. Delays averaged 40 minutes at O'Hare and 20 minutes at Midway. Canceled flights totaled more than 1,600 at O'Hare and more than 85 at Midway. Chicago Department of Aviation administrators advised travelers to check with their airlines before heading to either airport.

Travel through Indiana and Michigan was limited for Megabus customers due to hazardous driving conditions. The bus company canceled service from Chicago to Indianpolis and Ann Arbor Tuesday.

For the latest on Metra delays, go to metrarail.com/metra/en/home.html.

•Daily Herald staff writers Mike Smith and Jamie Sotonoff contributed to this report.

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