After a month of delays and cancellations, the suspension of the North Central Service Tuesday because of a Mundelein freight train derailment was the last straw for some Metra passengers.
Wheeling commuter Stacey Horcher called Tuesday's mishap "the cherry on top of the cake for NCS disruptions."
"My commute is fraught with stress over delays and disruptions that have been much more the rule than the exception this past month," Horcher said in an email. "I would (characterize) my commute as some kind of bizarre gauntlet through which I must run to get to work."
A set of wheels on a southbound Canadian National Railway car filled with plastic pellets came off the rails at about 1 a.m. Tuesday on the Lake Street (Route 45) overpass, north of Route 176, CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said.
The rail car stayed upright but it damaged the track and -- because it occurred in a single-track section -- shut down the North Central Service all Tuesday. Service will resume Wednesday, Metra officials promised, but they advised that trains will be running 10 to 15 minutes late because of speed restrictions in the area where the track was repaired.
The North Central Line stretches from Antioch to Chicago, with stops across Lake County and Northwest Cook County.
The incident came on the heels of a frustrating month for Metra filled with delays and cancellations systemwide, due mostly to the so-called polar vortex the week of Jan. 5.
Metra officials apologized for the problem and thanked riders for their "patience and understanding." Spokesman Michael Gillis said the agency wanted to give CN enough time to "make a full recovery" from the accident.
CN officials said freight service resumed on the route Tuesday afternoon. Officials were still investigating what caused the car to leave the rails.
"The most recent set of delays has served to shake my confidence in the whole system, and consider using my car to commute every day," Horcher said. "I really prefer the idea of mass transit for commuting, but the inability of Metra to address the delays honestly, and early, and with some meaningful offers of other alternatives has left me very angry."
North Central Service regular Jane Berman hastily switched to Plan B Tuesday, grabbing a Milwaukee District North Line train and paying extra to park at the Lake-Cook Road station instead of her usual Buffalo Grove stop. She arrived at work in Chicago 90 minutes late.
"It's frustrating to see so many hardworking commuters still have to pay full fare when service disruptions occur" and face a "long, ugly commute," Berman said. "I feel like they don't have a place to turn to for relief. There doesn't seem to be much accountability when the train shows up late or not at all."
Jerome Citron, a 40-year Metra rider who remembers when there was no North Central Service, parked at the Arlington Park station on the UP Northwest Line instead of his Buffalo Grove stop.
"I didn't think it was that traumatic," but the entire month has been "trying," Citron said. "If it was switching problems again ... I would have been mad," he added, referring to ice and snow catching in switches and causing havoc on the tracks during the polar vortex.
Buffalo Grove commuter Shelly Spector's company gives employees flexibility in adverse situations. "Once I heard this morning about the derailment and shutdown of NCS, I turned my living room into a remote office," Spector emailed.
"As far as January travel, it was quite obvious that Metra was not prepared during the first cold snap. I understand you can't control the weather, but not keeping your riders up to date is unacceptable. On a more positive note, (Monday) when I walked into Union Station I heard more service announcements than ever before," Spector added.