If Monday weren’t enough of an arctic adventure for Chicago area commuters, Tuesday has the potential for more of the same double-digit, subzero temperatures that threaten to wreak havoc with morning travel.
After a day marred by delays on every Metra line, frozen switches and collisions, many commuters headed home during the evening were thrown another curve when Metra cancelled more than two dozen trains, citing the hazardous weather conditions.
Metra announced late Monday that more cancellations were likely Tuesday morning on its BNSF line, advising customers to check Metra's website, metrarail.com, for details.
The cancellations were caused, in part, by federal railroad work rules which limit the hours crews can work, Metra said.
Among the frustrated was North Sider Steve Millot who said he checked Metra’s website at work before heading for the Ogilvie Transportation Center, only to find his train had been cancelled.
“They didn’t say anything about this madness,” said Millot, 63. “I was looking for alerts and didn’t see anything. I’m disappointed. I hate Metra. I could have taken the CTA.”
Metra emailed an alert about 3:25 p.m., but Millot’s sentiment about a lack of communication was echoed by other commuters.
Raul Reynes, whose SouthWest Service line train was late, says Metra should do a better job informing people about delays.
“Considering the amount of communication that could be done, (Metra) should be posting things more rapidly,” said Reynes, 50, of Oak Lawn. “They don't use social media to their advantage. The information never comes on time.”
Metra tries its best to promptly post notices on its website, send email alerts, use Twitter and notify the media, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.
Most of the cancellations were on the three Union Pacific lines and the BNSF line, Metra’s busiest routes, which together serve more than 174,000 riders each weekday, although Monday’s ridership was much lower, officials said.
For Metra and CTA riders, all it takes is a bit of ice to jam up the works. Metra blamed many of its delays Monday on switches and signals that it says are vulnerable to extreme temperatures and moisture.
Even though some switches are warmed electronically and with propane-gas heaters, a simple chunk of ice can stop a train in its tracks, Metra says. Fine-grained snow tends to collect on trains, compact into hard ice, and then the ice drops on switches and locks them up, said Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile.
“When a big chunk of ice comes down on a switch, it has to be manually removed. No heater can remove that,” Reile said.
As it did over the weekend, Metra said it planned to have crews on duty throughout the night keeping watch over switches and equipment. Locomotives were being run continually and trains fueled at outlying yards in addition to Chicago locations, officials said.
CTA officials were planning for a normal Tuesday morning rush after a start to the work week that was anything but normal. CTA rail service was hampered by cold temperatures that caused electrical track switches to jam and train doors to stick in the open position, officials said.
CTA reported late Monday “significant delays’’ on the Red, Blue and Purple lines.
Not all CTA switches are equipped with heaters.
“We had cases (Monday) where personnel were manually throwing switches,’’ CTA spokesman Brian Steele said. “We will continue to have crews of signal maintainers and maintenance personnel across the rail system.’’
On the Red Line, the CTA’s busiest, the intervals between trains ran up to three times longer than usual, Steele said.
“Delays were 10 to 15 minutes on average on the rail system, but some people waited longer at platforms due to bigger than normal gaps between trains,’’ Steele said. Normal time between Red Line trains would be three to four minutes during rush periods.
Metra had delays on every one of its 11 lines Monday, with wait times ranging from 15 minutes to more than 90, spokesmen said. The most significant delays were reported on the UP lines due to backups of trains entering and leaving the Ogilvie Transportation Center.
With the extremely low temperatures, Metra also cut operating speeds to reduce stress on the rails, Gillis said.
Despite delays and cancellations, Metra’s riders had it better than their counterparts on the South Shore line, which cancelled all trains Monday between Northwest Indiana, Hegewisch and Downtown.
The railroad blamed the extreme weather conditions, impassable station parking lots and platforms. As many as 6,500 customers were forced to stay home or make alternate plans.
The South Shore said it expected to resume most regular service Tuesday.
If the weather weren’t bad enough, other mishaps delayed trains. A Milwaukee District North line train clipped a truck early Monday near Touhy Avenue in Niles. Fourteen minor injuries were reported.
Two Metra Rock Island trains hit bumping posts as they pulled into Chicago's LaSalle Street station. In one incident, six people were taken to area hospitals with minor injuries, Metra said.
“All I know is that we hit the post hard enough to where it felt as if we were in a pretty hard rear-end accident and I will probably be calling a chiropractor soon,” said Madeline Kish, 23, of Oak Forest. “It was definitely a morning wake-up.”
Jen Phelps, 39, was trying to board a Metra train at the Oglivie Station to her home in Oak Park around 7:30 p.m. She came down from her office in the same building at 5 p.m. only to find the station packed with delayed travelers.
"People were waiting in the cold for a train just to get on," Phelps said. "That, I thought, was crazy. It's negative 32 out. I didn't feel like fighting the crowds so I went back upstairs and finished a few reports."
Her scheduled 7:40 train to Elburn was delayed and she would have to take a 40 minute trip on the CTA's Green Line home instead of a 15 minute Metra ride, but she said she was not upset.
"How can you be on a day like this?" She said. "You have to be realistic about it. When it's this cold what are you gonna do?"
Ken Peters, 56, ready to board a train to Highland Park was not as easy going about it. It took him about 2-1/2 hours to get in from Highland Park this morning due to weather related delays on Metra.
"I like taking the train, but it falls apart when it gets cold," Peters said.
Richard Kates, 74, who was delayed nearly two hours this morning and was headed to Winnetka Monday evening agreed.
"You've got all these people getting up and going out in the cold weather, motivated to go to work," he said, "Instead they're twiddling their thumbs on a train."
Herman McCray, 54, hoping to get to Bellwood tonight said he had no other way to get home other than his delayed 7:40 p.m. Elburn bound train. He was also delayed coming in this morning.
"Seeing as how I'm going home it's a lot better than coming to work. I do have a schedule to be at work," he said. "I would prefer good communication (from Metra) when I'm gonna be late."
At around 7 pm Monday, Dino Barrett, 47, and Nancy Halm, 53, were waiting in line to reschedule Amtrak trips that had been delayed all day and then canceled altogether around 5 p.m., they said.
"There was hope at one point," said Halm, who had been trying to get to her home in Bloomington IL since early Sunday morning.
Her trip started in Jacksonville, Fla. She flew first to Atlanta, then Detroit and then into Chicago, hoping to get home using ground transportation only to find out that buses were canceled and Amtrak trains delayed.
"I probably had 30 minutes sleep (last night)," she said.
This evening when she found out her train was canceled, "I had a little moment," she said.
Her last resort is to stay with her nephew in Chicago Monday evening.
Gallal Obeid, 21, had been trying to get to Lawrence, Kan. on the Amtrak since Monday morning, and his trip was canceled around 5:30 p.m.
"I do want to get somewhere warm," he said while waiting to reschedule his ticket, "I can't feel my feet, literally. I can't do it anymore."
Tribune reporter Meredith Rodriguez contributed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun