Cold could lead to Metra delays Wednesday

  • Metra took extra preparations to avoid long delays related to snow and cold.

    Metra took extra preparations to avoid long delays related to snow and cold. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/7/2015 8:38 AM

Metra is warning riders to be prepared for possible delays or schedule changes related to the bitter cold that is expected to worsen on Wednesday.

Temperatures will skid below zero degrees overnight Tuesday and remain frigid with blowing snow on Wednesday. And that could lead to the kind of minor problems affecting one train -- such as ice in a switch -- that can spiral and cause problems elsewhere, especially during rush hour, officials warned.

 

A reprieve is expected Thursday with a relatively balmy high of 12 degrees forecast.

After being panned for the response to the polar vortex of 2014, Metra leaders were keyed up this week to avoid a repeat of the delays and cancellations that plagued the transit agency during last January's bitter cold. Preventive measures included running locomotives all night and bringing in extra workers to handle equipment or track problems resulting from the subzero temperatures and snow.

Those precautions will continue through the week. "We're not backing off until this cold breaks," spokeswoman Meg Reile said.

Overall, Tuesday's commute that followed the region's first significant snowfall was relatively smooth.

"So far, so good," was BNSF rider Kathy Bronke's cautiously optimistic assessment of conditions Tuesday morning.

Although a loudspeaker warned of delays from six to eight minutes on one BNSF train, Bronke, of Downers Grove, said, "considering how bad it was last year, this is tolerable. I'm keeping my fingers crossed."

On the Union Pacific Northwest Line, Hoffman Estates passenger Steve Baldasti saw a significant improvement from Monday, when he experienced frigid cars and delays.

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"Trains are on time, cars are warm. Actually, a lot better than yesterday," Baldasti said.

Metra cautioned passengers to check its website, metrarail.com, or sign up for email alerts for the latest conditions. Trains also are operating under speed restrictions, which is mandated once temperatures reach zero degrees or colder. That means cars running about 10 mph slower than normal.

Engineers also use different braking procedures that involve slower stops, Reile said.

In 2014, during two so-called polar vortex events, multiple trains were canceled or delayed and one Union Pacific train stranded passengers on a platform at a Chicago station with no shelter for about 40 minutes.

Metra CEO Don Orseno said Monday the agency took numerous steps in anticipation of more subzero conditions. These included changing the type of snowblowers it uses to clear rail yards, adding more remote fuel stations and increasing heaters that melt ice trapped in switches.

Overall, seven BNSF trains came in six to 10 minutes late Tuesday morning, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said. "All other lines saw just a handful of delays, almost all six to 10 minutes, except the Metra Electric, which had about 15 trains 10 to 20 minutes late because of switch problems at two locations."

The Union Pacific Northwest Line also experienced some switch-related short delays on two early morning trains.

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