Metra plans for next Union Station service disruption

Updated 2/17/2012 4:51 PM

If you've ever tried and failed to understand what the announcer is saying about delayed Metra trains at Chicago's Union Station -- you're not alone.

Metra is working on strategies to reduce overcrowding and confusion among passengers during situations such as the one Jan. 9, when an Amtrak signal failed in the heart of the afternoon rush.


It took about 42 minutes to fix the problem, during which time most trains couldn't exit or enter the station, leading to delays and confusion for thousands of riders on the BNSF, Heritage Corridor and Southwest Service lines.

On other occasions, Heritage Corridor and Southwest Service passengers have complained they aren't able to reach their trains when delays affect the BNSF Line at peak hours.

To prevent future meltdowns, Metra is considering two plans to be enacted only during major service disruptions, officials said at a Friday meeting.

One would involve altering BNSF, Southwest Service and Heritage Lines schedules to accommodate more passengers. For example, express trains could be revised to stop at more stations. Also, crowds would be directed to the station's Great Hall when necessary.

A second strategy would affect BNSF Line commuters headed for Naperville on trains leaving from Track 2 at 5 p.m., 5:22 p.m., 5:45 p.m. and 6:14 p.m. Those passengers would be directed to enter Union Station at the Jackson and Clinton streets entrance and wait in the Great Hall until their trains are ready to leave.

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It will be important to engage with commuters so they understand and cooperate with the emergency plans, staff members said.

"Moving customers and having them trust you is our biggest obstacle," senior corporate director of customer affairs Sharon Austin said.

The agency will work on finalizing details of the strategies in the coming months.

On a daily basis, 54,388 passengers board Metra trains at Union Station. Of those riders, 32,295 use the south end of Union Station to reach BNSF, Southwest Service and Heritage Corridor lines. And, 22,093 people use the north end to board Milwaukee District North, Milwaukee District West and North Central Service Lines.

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