Metra delays, Amtrak cancellations after trains collide

June 4, 2011 4:58:53 AM PDT
All tracks were cleared for use Friday afternoon by officials following a train collision, but some delays persisted into rush hour.

A Metra spokesperson said that all trains were back on schedule by 6:30 p.m. Friday. Metra does not expect federal investigators to close the tracks again throughout the weekend.

The Federal Railroad Administration tested the signal system following the slow-speed collision between an Amtrak train pulling out of Union Station and a Metra train pulling in around 8:15 a.m. Friday. The agency had not released any details of the investigation as of Friday night.

The investigation shut down lines to the west and south most of the day, but reopened just before 4 p.m. Three Metra lines were most impacted: the Burlington Northern train to Aurora, the Southwest Service to Manhattan and the Heritage Corridor to Joilet.

Metra officials called it a "load and go" situation, where they fill trains and take off as soon as possible after they are loaded.

"The latest is that we are now able to use all the tracks here, so we're bringing trains in and loading them as fast as we can and getting 'em back out again. We think we're getting caught up now. It's gonna take a little while. There's gonna be some delays but we are able to get trains out and get our people home," said Michael Gillis of Metra during the day Friday.

Metra officials said they would then start combining trains on the schedule, which means commuters needed to look at the boards for information and ask for help from Metra staffers. Many trains were not going to load at their usual platforms.

Throughout the afternoon, passengers waited in a crowded Union Station for word on their trains.

"They've been saying for the last hour, we're gonna leave a half hour late, so we just keep waiting and waiting and waiting. And it just keeps saying delay, delay. I don't think they really know," Tom Leucuta, Metra passenger, said.

"I anticipated a lot of aggravation. Metra has a tendency to do that. And I knew the delays were going to be extensive. I got the alert and they had said that they were trying to catch up so I thought it would be better, but obviously, it isn't," Denise Mitchell said.

"It's a pain... but there's nothing I can do, so why make myself crazy about it?" said commuter Mike Yadgir.

Amtrak also experienced delays and cancelations. Delayed trains: No. 49 Lake Shore Limited from New York, No. 851 Hoosier State from Indianapolis and No. 371 Pere Marquette from Grand Rapids. Canceled trains: No. 302 Lincoln service to Chicago and No. 321 Texas Eagle from Chicago.

No serious injuries in train collision

Twelve people were injured -- none seriously -- when the two trains collided at Union Station during the Friday morning rush hour. The incident was originally reported as a derailment, but rail officials now say the cars never came off track.

The two trains -- Amtrak Saluki train No. 391 to Carbondale and Metra Burlington Northern train No. 1242 -- were involved in a slow-speed collision around 8:15 a.m.

The Amtrak train was leaving Union Station as the Metra train, carrying between 1,000 and 1,500 passengers, arrived. They struck under the U.S. Post Office at the south end of Union Station. The jolt knocked some people from their seats.

"We started hearing this big was like, hey, somebody hit something and the next thing we know, we turn around and see the car ripping apart," said Rama Konjeti of Aurora, who was inside a damaged car.

Most injuries were bumps, bruises, and contusions. A woman pregnant with twins was worried she might go into labor, but told ABC7 she was OK Friday afternoon.

Another passenger, Kirk Musselman, was sleeping when the crash knocked him forward, and he injured his knee slightly.

"It was kind of something very loud... And then to have the pause, and have it happen again a few minutes later-- a few 10, 15 seconds later-- was a bit of a shock," said Musselman.

ABC7's planning editor Len Prazak was on the Metra train. He said, "There was a loud bang and we pushed forward, and a second or two later, there was a second loud bang... a conductor came rushing through asking if everybody was OK. Everybody in our car was OK. Then I heard him on his radio the call for ambulance and doctors."

"One big crash and then another big crash," said Barbara Panos. "I was holding onto the seat well, so you just got sort of jerked around. I didn't fall or anything."

"We felt like a bump and then we heard, an impact like, and we kept going to the side. It seemed like it came into the car," said Teleshia McClendon, passenger.

"It just happened suddenly. I mean I was half asleep anyway. I woke up. I don't think anyone, everyone seemed fine," said Ehsan Sheikh, passenger.

The Amtrak train was able to pull away on its own accord. The Metra train was more heavily damaged.

Collision remains under investigation

A cause remains under investigation, but officials said there may have been a switching error. The Metra train was entering Union Station on Track 2; it follows a bend over a number of switches on arrival. The seven-car Amtrak Saluki was leaving on Track 18 and would have routinely waited for the inbound train to arrive.

Now rail officials are trying to determine what happened. Was there a signal problem? What did the Amtrak engineer see? What about the switches?

"That is one of the things we're looking at now," Derrick James of Amtrak said. "The station tracks are dispatched by Amtrak personnel."

"We'll look to see all factors in this case, mechanical problems and human problems and technological problems. It's too early to narrow the focus as to what it is we're looking at," said Marc Magliari, Amtrak spokesman.

Passengers from Metra train 1242 and other trains behind it were evacuated and walked to Canal Street. Ten buses were sent to pick them up and take them on to Union Station.

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