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updated: 1/27/2014 6:17 PM

Metra weathering latest polar episode

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  • Daily Herald File PhotoOnce ice gets into a railroad switch, it's time-consuming to dislodge it.

      Daily Herald File PhotoOnce ice gets into a railroad switch, it's time-consuming to dislodge it.

 
 

Just one challenge -- extreme cold -- instead of the one-two punch of blowing snow and subzero temperatures earlier this month made for comparatively smooth trips Monday on Metra.

The commuter railroad experienced some weather-related delays but not the service meltdowns that occurred during the so-called polar vortex the week of Jan. 5.

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"The big difference is that today's cold did not come on the heels of a significant snowstorm and we did not have blowing, drifting snow with which to contend," spokesman Michael Gillis said.

"It's remarkable, it's totally different," North Central Service commuter Luis Caban said Monday afternoon at Union Station waiting for a train home to Buffalo Grove. "It was on time this morning ... there were no switch problems. (There was) a lack of preparedness the first time. Maybe they learned a lesson from that."

"They were pretty on the ball today," Steve Hibnick of Wheeling said, especially compared to Jan. 6 and 7. "There was a little bit of a delay, but there weren't the massive track freezings there were back then."

However, he noted that passengers weren't out of the woods yet. "It's supposed to get worse," Hibnick said. Tuesday's high will be 2 degrees but the windchill could get to minus 29.

As of late afternoon Monday, some trains on the BNSF and Milwaukee North and West lines were seeing delays of 15 to 20 minutes.

Metra warned passengers to expect weather-related slowdowns this week and advised riders to give themselves extra traveling time Tuesday.

On the BNSF Line some trains were up to 20 minutes late Monday morning and the UP North Line reported some delays of up to 30 minutes.

BNSF commuter Kurt Hyzy's morning train was 15 minutes behind schedule, but "it's better than the last time it was this cold ... it was an hour late," he said at the Downers Grove station.

Some riders were still shellshocked by multiple delays and cancellations that made life miserable earlier this month.

"One hundred years of railroading and they still can't figure out how to keep a switch warm," BNSF rider Jeff Japlon said. The railroads blamed the majority of delays on ice and fine snow getting into switches and causing them to fail.

And Japlon took nothing for granted about his trip back to Downers Grove later Monday afternoon. Riders have complained of confusing conditions at Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center when trains are delayed or canceled.

"Coming home ... it's always dicey. If there's a pack of people, you panic and just try to find the first train you can," Japlon said.

Meanwhile, Pace reported nothing out of the usual except for a few delays.

"As with the previous cold snaps, we spent the weekend preparing our facilities and vehicles to be prepared for (Monday) morning's conditions," spokesman Patrick Wilmot said in an email.

"The majority of our vehicles are parked indoors overnight, so we're able to keep them sheltered from the elements and don't need to run the engines throughout the night. We also increase the roster of extra drivers that can fill in should a regular driver be unavailable for his or her shift."

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