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Article updated: 1/17/2014 8:37 PM

UP apologizes: 'Our performance was unacceptable'

A man man walks to an outbound Metra train at the Arlington Heights station in the sub-freezing temperatures Jan. 6.

A man man walks to an outbound Metra train at the Arlington Heights station in the sub-freezing temperatures Jan. 6.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Arlene Mulder

Arlene Mulder

 
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A Union Pacific executive apologized Friday at a Metra meeting for stranding passengers and other messups during the "polar vortex" earlier in the month.

"I could not believe such a decision could come out of an organization like yours," said Director Arlene Mulder, former Arlington Heights mayor.

She was referring to a decision to drop off passengers at the unheated Clybourne station in Chicago Jan. 6 after shifting their UP Northwest Line train to an express to Crystal Lake. Riders waited for about 40 minutes for the next train in subzero temperatures.

"Moving people is a big responsibility. People expect (the service) is run by professionals," Mulder said. "This is a big black mark ... it's something no one will forget. It's fortunate no one had a serious (health) backlash personally."

Metra and its freight partners UP and BNSF experienced multiple delays and cancellations on some lines during the big freeze, when temperatures dropped to 16 below zero. Weather-related problems and pulling train cars for repairs this week brought additional delays and short trains on some commutes.

UP Regional Vice President David Connell said the Clybourne decision was made with the expectation another train would be there quickly. It was a "tactical decision," made "in the heat of the moment."

"Our performance was unacceptable." Connell said. "We will do everything possible to make sure we are better prepared for the next (weather event). We can't apologize enough."

But he also noted, "we take exception with representations that UP and its employees do not care about the riding public."

BNSF Chicago division General Manager Jason Jenkins blamed ice and snow for causing switches to fail and doors to stay ajar.

He did not directly apologize for numerous delays that plagued the BNSF system but said "we recognize the impact when we do not perform quite well. We've learned a bit from this.

The railroad's winter emergency plan was "not designed enough to accommodate something of this magnitude," he said.

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