Discussion related to commuter rail and rapid transit operations in the Chicago area including the South Shore Line, Metra Rail, and Chicago Transit Authority.

Moderators: JamesT4, metraRI

  by metraRI
After tonights mess on RI, I thought there should be a thread where posts can be made about service disruptions instead of making a new thread for each time something happens.

I'm not sure what exactly happened, but from what I have read from Metra's service updates a truck was struck near Brainerd. This caused branch line trains to use the main to Blue Island. Once at Blue Island, trains went back north toward Brainerd. As a result train #415, an express to Joliet was cancelled. Branch line trains ran up to 60 minutes late, as trains ran backwards up the branch. Train #417 ran with its normal equipment coming from #418. #419 left LaSalle Street 20 minutes late, using train #420's equipment. #523, which normally uses #420's equipment, ran with a 9 car train, possibly #415's equipment. #525, which normally runs with equipment used on #613 and #628, ran with a 7 car Blue Island set. I'm not sure what will happen to get everything back to thier normal layover yards.

  by Tadman
Effective immediately, I'm proposing a "get hit by metra, spend a night in cook county lockup" law. No excuses, no questions. Maybe spend three nights in the sketchiest jail we've got. The accidents on both foot and car are getting out of hand lately.

  by doepack
Daily Herald

Buffalo Grove Metra station will close for overhaul in a month
By Nadia Malik
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Buffalo Grove Metra station will close at the end of June to allow
for upgrades.

The station originally was scheduled to close today, but village
Finance Director Scott Anderson said the bidding process will continue for a
few more weeks.

Another 630 square feet of shelter will be added to the station in the
project organized by Metra.

The retail area, where a concession stand now offers coffee and
breakfast, will be expanded. Space also will be provided for a ticket
agent - as of now, commuters must buy their tickets on the train.

"That may not occur right away," Anderson said. "If (ridership) gets
to a level where Metra can justify the staffing, then that will happen."

The station will be closed for at least three months, but shelters
will be provided in the area.

Anderson said the station is one of the smallest on the North Central
Line and Metra is expanding it to what it should originally have been.

"It actually is right-sizing the building to what it should have been
years ago," Anderson said. "With the demand for service and now the new
double-track, there's more ridership now."

Metra recently added more trains to the line in that double-tracking
project. Metra also has been expanding the parking lot at the station, going
from 600 spots to about 1,000.

"It's something Metra's been wanting to do for a while," Anderson
said. "We could probably have used a larger facility from the beginning."


  by doepack
Bag Of Acid Found On Metra Tracks

Jun 15, 2006 6:25 pm US/Central

(CBS) DOWNERS GROVE Several bags of acid were found on Metra train tracks in Downers Grove Thursday, causing a temporary stop of train traffic through the western suburb.

The bags of white, powder acid fell from the back of a freight train, according to Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet.

A full hazardous materials response is on the scene, and there are reports of 6 to 10 bags of the substance lining the tracks west of the Downers Grove Main Street Station, at 5001 Main St., said Village of Downers Grove spokesman Doug Kozlowski.

Emergency crews began fielding calls for "suspicious white bags on the train tracks" about 4:30 p.m., Kozlowski said. Emergency responders were inspecting the substance and working with various agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, to figure out how to safely remove the bags, he said.

The Burlington-Northern line was temporarily stopped at the Downers Grove station, but train traffic on the line had not been completely stopped, Pardonnet said. Trains heading out of the city cannot continue west past Downers Grove and trains headed into the city cannot go east past the station, she said.

"It will cause delays, it just depends how long it takes to clean it up," Pardonnet said.

Passengers still downtown are asked to find alternate transportation home.

The Union Pacific West Line can be taken as an alternate route.


  by MetraBNSF
Wow, what a nightmarish commute.

As of 8:40pm, all service has resumed operation.

I got off a Naperville-bound express train at Western Springs, about 2 hours after leaving CUS. At Western Springs, there were literally 7 westbound trains stacked up one right behind one another on the northernmost track. Quite a sight.

  by doepack
I'm told that 1251 (1644 from CUS, a DG Exp) was the first outbound train affected, and additionally, there were some problems between Metra, BNSF, and the local authorities in terms of communicating the cause and full scope of the delay to Metra passengers. Many BNSF employees were also in the dark for quite sometime. Predictably, this led to a lot of angry and frustrated commuters, some of whom wound up sitting on trains for hours. Not a good week to be a BNSF commuter, that's for sure...

  by MetraBNSF
Within a 5 minute span, the train I was on was running, 45, 48, 30, and 32 minutes behind schedule due to a hasmat situation, then police activity. Automated announcements announced the first two delay times, then a conductor announced the remaining two delay times. If service is halted completely, I guess you can't really announce delay times. There was a lapse somewhere early on getting the info out, but once Metra, BNSF, and local authorities got a scope of the situation, it was easier to disseminate info.

I was on the train for about 2-2.5 hours before there was enough space ahead to pull into Western Springs, where many people got off.

  by metraRI
More delays were on RI today, nothing as bad as BNSF's situation. I'm not sure what exactly was the problem, but something with train #413. 406 leading, got into 80th Avenue 20 minutes late. When I saw 406 between 80th and Hickory Creek, it had no problem reaching track speed. Due to #413's lateness, #415 used track 2. The train must have been at 80th Avenue for 5 minutes as passengers unloaded using 3 cars at RI's busiest station.

  by MetraBNSF
The effects of last night on BNSF has carried over into this morning, as many trains this morning have been combined and several trains have been cancelled. There's no outbound service until 7:45am.

  by doepack
With an FRA-mandated rule of at least 10 hours of rest between calls, it's likely a lot of these crews were on average several hours late tying up at Aurora due to last night's problems. As a result, the pool of "rested" crews was severely diminished, which is why BNSF had to run a "modified" schedule this morning. Oh well, hope for the best this afternoon...

  by meh
As a chemist, it's hard for me not to be amazed that such an extreme response resulted from this situation. Stearic acid is somewhere between vinegar (acetic acid) and beef fat. It and its salt forms are ingredients in some foods. (Look on a package of breath mints. See the "magnesium stearate" on the label? That's almost exactly the same stuff!) A bottle of muriatic (hydrochloric) acid that anyone can buy at a hardware store, or or a bottle of drain cleaner from the grocery store, would each be far more hazardous.

While I know that a reasonable degree of caution is called for, particularly in a time of terrorism fears, once someone was able to read the label on the bags or identify their contents from the offending freight train's manifest, it seems that a sane response would be to grab each bag and move it onto the station platform or the ballast, post someone there to keep onlookers away, and get the tens of thousands of commuters on those trains moving! I know that a HazMat protocol was being followed, but I'm amazed if those protocols don't give authorities guidance about the relative risk of different materials, or offer sensible solutions such as "mix with a similar amount of baking soda, add water, and watch the 'hazard' be reduced to breath-mint status." An escalator smashing BNSF passengers into an already-packed Union Station concourse probably posed far more danger than all those bags of acid combined.

"Acid" encompases a wide range of materials. A leaking tank car of concentrated sulfuric acid is a big deal and must be treated with great caution, considering that the leaking acid will literally dissolve the rails, turn the ties to charcoal, and emit acrid, irritating irritating fumes. But a dry form of an acid that is an ingredient in soaps and foods (and is safe to put in your mouth) logically should get a much less alarmed response.

  by MetraBNSF
This was posted just recently on the Metra web site:

Friday, June 16, 2006



At approximately 4:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon, service on the BNSF was halted after bags of stearic acid were discovered along the tracks. The bags of the white, powdery chemical normally used in candle and soap production had fallen from a freight train earlier in the day. It was not until we received a call from the Downers Grove Fire Department that anyone knew of the problem.

Although stearic acid is an extremely stable chemical, when released into the air, it can cause eye, skin or respiratory irritation. For that reason, the local fire departments and hazardous material teams felt that it was best that we not operate through the areas until the product was removed from the railbed.

We attempted to secure busses to carry customers around the initial site at Downers Grove, but there were only a limited number available. We knew that it would be a long and tedious process to transfer customers from train to bus to a train waiting beyond Downers Grove, but we felt that it was the only option. While we continued our attempts to secure additional busses, we were notified that the product had been found at various points between Cicero and Aurora. At that point, we had no choice but to wait for the entire line to be cleared. Unfortunately, this took several hours to accomplish. Train service finally resumed just after 8:15 p.m.

The problems continued this morning because the crews, who must observe federally mandated rest periods, were unable to return to work to operate their normal inbound trains. BNSF managers worked through the night to modify the schedule this morning in an attempt to provide as much service as possible.

Metra and BNSF personnel have remarked on the patience and understanding shown by all of you. We know that each of you probably had some plans last evening which were ultimately delayed or cancelled because of the service disruption. While our goal is to get everyone home on time, all the time, our most important responsibility is to get you there safely. Thank you for your calm and reasonable demeanor during what was, in all likelihood, your longest and most trying commute home.


Posted: 11:06 AM CDT

Effective immediately, BNSF trains are operating on the regular weekday schedule.

Posted: 10:51 AM CDT

  by meh
Metra wrote:Although stearic acid is an extremely stable chemical, when released into the air, it can cause eye, skin or respiratory irritation. For that reason, the local fire departments and hazardous material teams felt that it was best that we not operate through the areas until the product was removed from the railbed.
In fact, the Material Safety Data Sheet for sodium chloride describes exactly the same risks for exposure to salt: eye, skin, and respiratory irritation, in addition to a number of ingestion hazards. To be safe, automobiles should not be allowed to drive on any Chicago-area streets and highways from November to April each year. There are literally tons of sodium chloride "spilled" on them, which should warrant a similar haz-mat response.

For comparison, see:

sodium chloride MSDS and stearic acid MSDS

I am not cavalier about chemical safety. In fact, part of my job to be sure that students are as safe as they can possibly be when using chemicals. But when something as innocuous as salt has "official" safety information such as this, and when haz-mat teams respond based on that information, it's no wonder that irrational caution is taken about even rather safe substances.

Genuine chemical risks do exist (although a bottle of bleach or drain cleaner or a container of gasoline in your trunk are all considerably more hazardous than stearic acid or sodium chloride). When an extreme response occurs for a relatively minor situation, however, it only increases the possibility that people will be less responsive when another more serious situation occurs because previous overstated warnings have made them skeptical.

  by MetraBNSF
doepack wrote:I'm told that 1251 (1644 from CUS, a DG Exp) was the first outbound train affected.
A friend of mine was on the 3:58 express to D.G.-Aurora and that train was held just east of Fairview Ave/interlocking for about 2 hours. TV footage from the air showed the train parked on the center track with an Amtrak parked on the north track. The Metra was able to proceed through the interlocking and back up on the south track to the Fairview platform and unload its passengers.

  by doepack
And if the substance had actually been dangerous, it would've been transported seperately in a sealed container car (sometimes referred to as "tank" cars), complete with a red and white "hazmat" number. But apparently, Metra/BNSF felt it was safe to let passengers detrain at Western Springs, even though the substance had been detected at various points between Cicero and Aurora by that time, which makes me wonder if any traces of the acid were actually found at, or in the immediate vicinity of any of the other stations. If that had been the case, the delays would've at least been a little more justified, but I guess we'll never really know...

meh wrote:When an extreme response occurs for a relatively minor situation, however, it only increases the possibility that people will be less responsive when another more serious situation occurs because previous overstated warnings have made them skeptical.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 41