Transit Troubles: Weather causing problems for travelers near and far

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,, 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.