Metra faces criticism over cold weather performance

After a conductor announced that a Metra train would be express to Crystal Lake, passengers say they waited at an outdoor station for 35 minutes.
January 7, 2014 3:47:57 PM PST
The dangerous cold is causing big problems for Metra. Dozens of trains were cancelled again on Tuesday, making for a miserable commute.

Metra believes it is catching up after a couple dozen train cancellations Tuesday morning. Only three trains were canceled Tuesday afternoon, all of which were on the BNSF line. But many passengers remain displeased with Metra's performance, particularly it's communication.

Metra UP Northwest line train number 619 was no more than a minute out of the Ogilvie Transportation Center Monday afternoon when the conductor announced that the train would be express to Crystal Lake.

That meant that passengers who weren't going too far would have to get off the train at the first stop, Clybourn, and wait for the next train.

The passengers waited at an outdoor station for 35 minutes.

''I mean the reality is the wind chill was 35 below, you've just put all these passengers at risk,'' said Lesley Mickle, Metra passenger.

Mickle was among those who huddled together, cellphones failing, as they waited and angrily wondered aloud.

''Why didn't they let us know that before pulling out of the station and give passengers the option of staying out in the cold or staying in a nice, warm station where you are safe,'' Mickle said.

That decision Monday was made by the Union Pacific Railroad, which operates that line. Metra's acting executive director acknowledges the unhappiness with it.

"And we did talk to the UP about it and they agreed with us that probably if this happened again today, they would not make that same move because of the inclement weather," said Don Orseno, executive director, Metra.

The expectation was the following train would arrive more quickly, but it didn't. Frozen switches, and crews worked to their federally-mandated maximums have been at the heart of Metra's cancellations and delays, but Metra believes it has done its best under the circumstances.

"We operated out of our 703 trains, over 90 percent of our trains. Although they weren't all on-time and we knew they weren't going to be on-time, but over 90 percent did operate and carry passengers," said Orseno.

"Please think of your passengers before your schedule. Think of their safety before your schedule," said Bickle.

Bickle, like many Metra passengers, say that they understand the business of delays and cancellations but that communication was lacking.

Metra agrees that is always a challenge, especially in a fluid situation that involves inclement weather.