UP defends bypassing Metra's costly wind detectors in delaying trains
Metra spent about $200,000 in 2014 buying wind detectors known as anemometers for its three Union Pacific routes to avoid unnecessary weather-related delays. But Monday morning, UP's dispatch center in Omaha relied on weather alerts warning about high winds instead of the anemometers and stopped all its trains from 5 to 7 a.m.
UP spokesman Mark Davis noted that winds of 70 mph can topple Metra cars. After halting the trains, dispatchers checked anemometer data and "once it was realized the winds were not as strong as forecast ... they felt it was safe to operate the commuter trains," Davis said.
BNSF and Metra-run trains kept going while UP passengers such as Central DuPage Hospital nurse Abbi Palmer sat tight.
"Being a nurse, I don't really have the flexibility of showing up a few minutes late, nor is it my preference to do so," said Palmer, whose UP West Line train came to a stop in River Forest at 5:23 a.m. en route to Winfield.
"It was very dark outside with some light rain, which started about 10 minutes after sitting. I didn't hear thunder or see lightning."
Palmer ended up being 20 minutes late to work; the duration of the stop was about 90 minutes.
Metra had purchased the anemometers because of complaints about unjustified weather delays in the past with the intent of forestalling such problems. It's up to UP to make the judgment call, however.
"The safety of the passengers is paramount," Davis said. "Our weather warning system and tools are in place to enhance the safe operation of our commuter trains in the Chicago area."
Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said Union Pacific "has committed to us that they will not stop any trains during high-wind forecasts without first consulting the data from the anemometers."
Gillis added that Metra checked in with UP local operators who contacted Omaha to see if the anemometers had been consulted -- "which they ultimately did," Gillis said.
"UP has agreed that they should have looked at it sooner," he said.
But should similar circumstances arise, it's unclear whether passengers can expect déjà vu.
"I'd hate to be in their shoes to make that decision," Davis said. "There's a very fine line when cars can be blown over."