New Metra exec reviews Blizzard 2011 response

February 14, 2011 5:09:55 AM PST
Metra officials admitted Friday they did not do enough to keep more trains running during the Blizzard of 2011.

The transit agency's review of performance during the storm came on the first day on the job for Metra's executive director.

Roughly 12 hours after the storm first showed its face, Metra officials made the decision to go to a Sunday schedule. It soon became apparent that there wouldn't be enough train crews to deliver even that.

"We failed to get that info out to our customers soon enough that that wasn't going to happen," Bill Tupper, Metra deputy director, said.

On Friday Metra board members got a postmortem on what worked and what failed during the Chicago Blizzard of 2011, ranked the third worst in the city's history. Train crews couldn't get to their suburban train yards; even some who were close couldn't get there because roads had become impassable.

Those crews that could make it were exhausted of their allowable hours on the job by Wednesday afternoon. More trains had to be canceled.

"We still didn't want to admit we couldn't do it so we kept hoping to do it and we didn't get that info conveyed out to our customers soon enough," Tupper said.

Metra command staff and its people in the field worked non-stop in horrible conditions; the storm overtime bill is an estimated $2 million. But the lessons learned seem to be: come up with realistic expectations; give riders ample time to adjust; and figure out how to get crews to trains.

"There's clearly a bundle of things we need to look at here in order to be able to ensure that next time crews get to those trains to the greatest extent possible," Alexander Clifford said. Clifford is Metra's new executive director. Friday was his first official day, but Clifford was in town during the blizzard and watched how the company handled the storm.

Clifford said he was impressed with his team's drive and dedication, but said he is not ready to make judgments about what's fixable in the field.

One consideration- without much available lodging in the far suburban yards, do crews camp out overnight on their trains during inclement weather?