Metra: Behind the scenes

February 13, 2014

Roz Varon recently had an opportunity to go behind the scenes at Metra, so to speak, to see what it takes to move over 300,000 commuters daily.

With 11 commuter lines, running over 700 trains each day, you may think Metra has its hands full. Mix in 520 freight and 52 Amtrak trains and you've got the recipe for the ultimate undertaking in coordination.

''We have meetings with them daily, conference calls, we talk about operations, we do a lot of things to make sure we can provide the service we like to provide for our customers,'' said Don Orseno, Metra's executive director.

Chicago has long been the rail hub of the nation. To better understand this massive operation, ABC 7 Eyewitness News was given exclusive look at a side of Metra never seen by the general public.

The BNSF mechanical yard is home to all of Metra's BNSF and Southwest service trains go for service maintenance and are given daily, federally-mandated inspections.

The yardmaster controls all train movements in and out of the yard from the crow's news.

''They pull into the yard, they have to cut the locomotive off of the train, leave the train out in the yard, pull the locomotive into the service track so that it can be fueled, sanded and inspected for the day,'' said Dave Leahy, terminal manager for BNSF.

The inspection includes, brakes, fuel, electric components and cleaning. If there's a problem, it's usually repaired right there. Inspections of the train cars take place outside. That was a big challenge during the recent storms, when blowing snow would clog the switches and trains couldn't move! Equipment delays created problems for the operating crews.

''They have a federal regulation, much like we do and the airline pilots do, how many hours employees can work,'' Orseno said.

When delays happen, it's Metra's GPS center that gets the information to the riders.

Each line is monitored by a different person - that person tracks every train. On a broader level, the consolidated control facility is where several Metra lines are coordinated with all the freight movement, because in many cases freight and commuter trains share the same track.

In an effort to better communicate with its passengers, Metra is in the process of upgrading its real-time train tracker system - to announce an exact time when a train will arrive or depart, rather than saying, in the next ten minutes. Metra says the new tracker system should be in place by summer 2014.

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