Metra reviews crowding problems at Union Station

Updated 1/20/2012 5:02 PM

After a seemingly minor repair job snowballed into rush-hour frustration for thousands of commuters at Union Station last week, Metra administrators have launched a task force to better manage future mishaps.

A signal maintained by Amtrak failed around 4 p.m. Jan. 9. Such problems normally can be repaired quickly, however, it took crews about 42 minutes to fix, officials said. The location of the signal at the south end of Union Station prevented most trains from exiting or entering while the repairs were ongoing.


Occurring at the heart of the rush hour, the incident caused delays and confusion for passengers using the BNSF, Heritage Corridor and Southwest Service commuter lines between Chicago and the suburbs.

Metra administrators on Friday said the situation at Union Station deserves study because the volume of commuters pouring into the building -- particularly at the south end -- later in the afternoon is so significant.

"It's like little tributaries feeding into a river," Metra Executive Director Alex Clifford said, noting that trains containing 800 to 1,500 passengers are leaving every four to five minutes.

He added that the acoustics of the terminal can make it difficult for passengers to hear announcements.

The agency has an emergency plan for such situations, but "when you have signal failures it's very dynamic," Deputy Executive Director George Hardwidge said.

The task force will look at crowd flow, where passengers could be diverted and if the Great Hall could be used as a waiting area.

"Our No. 1 priority is addressing crowding on the south end of the station," Hardwidge said.

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