'We cannot let this situation happen again': Lipinski wants Amtrak to answer for Union Station problems

  • A congressional hearing is set for Tuesday so Amtrak can explain a mishap that delayed thousands at Chicago Union Station Feb. 28.

    A congressional hearing is set for Tuesday so Amtrak can explain a mishap that delayed thousands at Chicago Union Station Feb. 28. Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Updated 4/12/2019 2:10 PM

Amtrak officials will face congressional scrutiny next week over a bungled technical upgrade that caused miserable commutes for thousands of Metra commuters in February.

U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, a Western Springs Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has scheduled a hearing on the mishap at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Metcalfe Building, Room 331, 77 W. Jackson Boulevard, Chicago.


More than 60,000 riders on the BNSF, Milwaukee District, North Central Service, Heritage Corridor and Southwest Service were left without rides or forced to wait for hours on trains or in stations because of signal problems Feb. 28.

"We cannot let this situation happen again," said Lipinski, who chairs the Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Rail, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

A power outage at Union Station Thursday, however, caused delays for BNSF riders during the morning rush.

On Feb. 28, Amtrak was installing new automatic braking hardware during the morning rush when a technician fell on a circuit board while holding a live wire. As a result, communications equipment shorted out primary and secondary servers, which control train signals. Two additional servers were being used to test the new braking system, Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner said.

Typically, Amtrak does not conduct maintenance or upgrades of signal equipment during rush hour, but "an inexperienced manager authorized an experienced senior technician" to go ahead, Gardner said.

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"All of us at Amtrak are mindful of how many people were affected by the delays that resulted from this disruption and I assure you, we are taking immediate concrete steps to ensure the causes of this event are addressed," Gardner said in a letter to Lipinski.

Lipinski said he is "extremely disappointed" after the railroad rejected his suggestion Amtrak reimburse riders who had to pay for taxis or other ways to reach their destinations.

Metra trains comprise about 75 percent of traffic at Union Station and 90 percent of passengers, although Amtrak owns the facility and controls operations.

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