Crowds at Union Station due to Metra delays

Commuters crowd Union Station waiting for delayed Metra trains Monday evening. (Photo courtesy Sarah Hubbs)

Metra issued an apology today to customers for the lengthy delays, crowded conditions and communication problems that occurred at Union Station on Monday evening.

Metra trains on the BNSF, SouthWest Service and Heritage Corridor lines were delayed anywhere from 15 to 50 minutes. At least two trains had to be consolidated.

Customers reported the South Concourse was jam-packed and complained of getting confusing information about delays and trains.

Metra blamed the problems on the failure of a signal circuit at a critical point where tracks intersect on the south end of the station, preventing most trains from entering or leaving.

Amtrak, which owns Union Station, is responsible for maintaining the tracks and signals, Metra said.

According to a statement from Metra, Amtrak started working on the problem shortly after it developed at about 4:20 p.m. Normally, such signal problems can be fixed relatively quickly, Metra said, but the repairs ended up taking 42 minutes during an extremely busy period of the evening rush hour.

As the delays grew, Metra said, the situation became "more and more fluid."

"Our plans, and therefore the information we needed to convey to riders, changed to adjust to the growing delays and crowded conditions," Metra said. "We did attempt to provide that information to our riders as quickly and effectively as we could, using station announcements, e-alerts and our website. But we know the situation was frustrating and some information was confusing, and we are sorry."

Metra said it and the BNSF Railway are working with Amtrak in an effort to eliminate or limit the number of signal and switch issues at Union Station.

"We want to be certain they are doing everything they can to prevent such problems in the future," Metra said.

rwronski@tribune.com