Metra shows off new snow-fighting equipment

Thursday, November 13, 2014
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Metra says it has a plan to keep trains running during the cold winter months.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Metra says it has a plan to keep trains running during the cold winter months. The transit agency showed off new equipment to help cut down delays that stopped passengers in their tracks last winter.

One of the new tools is a cold air jet blower. It rides on the road or tracks and blows cold air at a speed of 525 miles an hour. That's twice the speed of an EF5 tornado. Metra has three of them crews will use to fight snow in rail yards.

"This is an articulated boom and will be able to blow right in front and on the sides of rails and platforms. So it's really a much more versatile machine," Metra CEO Don Orseno said.

Metra has had jet blowers before, but they've all run on jet fuel. Last year, the jet fuel delivery trucks got stuck in the snow and cold and no jet fuel meant no jet blower.

The new blowers all run on diesel fuel, which is in abundant supply.

Another tool: electric switch heaters. Twenty new ones were installed in the Western Avenue coach yard. The clips hold a steel rod that's electrified when the temperature drops to 38 degrees.

Last winter, yard switches kept freezing and re-freezing, which meant it took much, much longer to get trains in and out of the yards.

Also, when trains pass over switches they tend to drop slush. That slush can quickly freeze up, and there is no sure-fire way to prevent that.

The third tool involves reworking doors on older Metra cars so blowing snow doesn't fill up gaps in the door slots. That was a big problem last winter.

"I think we'll be much better off with the way we've built up our system - not only for keeping trains on time, but also in communication because communication is vital to us and our customers," Orseno said.