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 Pacific 2-3-1
 
The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board has come out swinging:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opin ... 5041.story" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

This may be the beginning of the end of freight railroads UP and BNSF operation of the Chicagoland commuter services over their respective lines.

My impression was that in the past, neither freight carrier would have it any other way.
  by doepack
 
It's to Metra's credit that they tried running regular service despite the severe cold weather a couple of weeks ago, but in hindsight, I think that was a mistake. You simply can't guarantee regular service levels during extreme conditions like that, it's not going to happen. I don't think Metra has a "snow schedule", but maybe adopting one for next year and beyond should be discussed as a possible solution; I would hope that's at least considered. Because such a schedule with reduced service would definitely have been more appropriate here, besides, many folks stayed home anyway.
Union Pacific removed dozens of cars for service, forcing passengers to squeeze into the remaining ones.
At the peak of the crisis, I estimated about 20 cars or so being sidelined on the captive UP/W rush hour sets; no train was longer than six cars. I expected the painted, re-acquired Pullman coaches to be the ones most affected, but surprisingly, that wasn't the case; most of them appeared to be running (not bad for cars that had been scorned by an east coast poster for having "schoolbus seats"). Instead, it appeared to be older 7200/8200 Budd equipment of MILW heritage that suffered the most failures, but those are slowly returning to service as the situation improves...

This may be the beginning of the end of freight railroads UP and BNSF operation of the Chicagoland commuter services over their respective lines.
I don't think the response of those two railroads to an extreme weather situation like the one recently experienced is going to result in a seismic change like that, there will be other unseen and complex factors at work as well. Not sure how you draw that conclusion...
  by qboy
 
I'll say this it was really interesting to read, and watch the news the last week to 10 days. And some of the criticism was very much deserved. I'm a UP Engineer on the West line. Can't excuse leaving those people at Clybourn that day even though that decision wasn't meant to be callous or stick it to those passengers. Bad communications and lack of understanding that the train behind that was to p/u the passengers needed fueling as it just came in just to make it back for that outbound trip. As far service went Once out of Elburn yard which was its on headache with switch issues it was more less smooth even though we were a 30 mins late. Western Ave. and Lake st. couldn't keep up with the blowing snow and ice chunks falling from under the cars. Even with Maintainers out there working constantly there was only so much that they could do. They ended up cancel the first few westbound train out of downtown out to Elburn due equipment issues and switch problems. M25 was the first train to leave westbound and it didn't leave at 0840 more like 0940 once it did leave it was held at Western for over and hour for switch problems.U also ended up with a lot of equipment trying to get into Cal Ave Yard but I sat waiting to get in for 2hrs. U add about 8-10 other trains trying to do the same thing and it was just going to go down hill from there. Since we were trying still run some kind of schedule. I think one of the worst decision but they didn't have much choice was not calling it a snow day for for all the yard moves that morning. Which is basically leaving the loco tied onto the train in the yard instead of sending them down to M19A. But had no choice most of those engines need to be fueled since it couldn't be done at the outlying points. Because Metra not UP doesn't have any contracts for fuel trucks on Sundays that is what was explained to us. With the blowing snow and crazy temps it was terrible all around.

At the height of the cars pulled from service it was 45-50 cars. From brake shoes, wheels, doors, bathroom issues etc...Not to mention several cars had to pulled for the FRA inspections which are mandatory. I don't expect the general public to understand most of this stuff, but its a reality. Car inspector showed and explained to us how difficult it to change out a brake shoe in those conditions with ice built up all around. In normal conditions it may take 3-5 mins to change out brake shoes. In the condition icy conditions it could take 30-40 mins just to change 1 brake shoe. Cal Ave before the sub zero weather was doing 2 shifts, since then they have been running 24hrs getting cars back in service. Throw in too that M19A that Monday morning had lost power for several hours.

I agree with what Doepack said they should look at a modified schedule in the future because things can become so unpredictable when things get out of whack. These last week to 10 days has been rough on everyone especially the passengers. Seeing some of these train leave with 5 cars instead of 9, or 10 and 11 car trains leaving with 7-8 cars is not fun. But communication doing some thinking outside the box and planning ahead as best as they can help some. Sometimes U have throw out the schedule Metra is big on UP and BNSF for delays and on time performance they wanna know every delay enroute and the cause of it. Things will continue to get back to normal some trains may continue to be a car short. And the press and the politicians will go back to whatever they were doing before. And just maybe Metra, UP, and BNSF will learn and make some adjustments.
  by Tadman
 
While there are a few good points - the clybourn incident was a really bad idea - the overall article is a crock of crap.

We had the coldest weather seen in 20 years. Most offices just closed, while many others didn't mandate attendance. Many airlines just gave up on that day. The trib asserts that there is a problem because " the troubles persisted even after the weather improved", explaining " frigid temperatures and piles of snow are not exactly freak occurrences in northern Illinois".

I'm not a reporter, so I have no idea how fast their laptops were back in commission after the polar vortex. But a railroad doesn't work that way. Post-Hurricane Sandy, certain railroads were out of service for a while and today are still feeling lingering effects. And despite the editorial's insistence that such temps aren't freak occurrences, the same toad reporters were blowing a gasket over the weather on the days it happened, and probably selling millions in advertising in the process. The reporter should get off his duff, walk down to the weather department, and get his facts straight, because that weather department was telling us it was a 20-year occurrence and life-threatening cold. I'm not Albert Einstein and I won't pretend to know the technical definition of "freak occurrence" but a 20-year weather event featuring life-threatening temps might fall under that category.

But it's become apparent that the trib has gone from a good news source to total crap rag in the last decade. Their stories are typically no better than infotainment journalism and I gave up reading it when I was in college.
  by Pacific 2-3-1
 
I don't think UP or BNSF were, up till now, willing to have RTA/Metra employee-run trains "foul up" their very busy tracks. But the recent finger-pointing (or name-calling) may chip away at that attitude. Neither railroad operates any of the commuter services on the West Coast, for instance.
  by qboy
 
Call me biased but I don't see that changing BNSF and UP will continue to run there respective services for the foreseeable future. Yes UP only runs commuter service on the UP service carry over from CNW days. BNSF actually uses their employees for the service in Minnesota, and if I recall Seattle too.
  by Pacific 2-3-1
 
Oops! Forgot about Seattle being on the West Coast. I'm not going to be in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Bee this year.
  by byte
 
qboy wrote:Call me biased but I don't see that changing BNSF and UP will continue to run there respective services for the foreseeable future. Yes UP only runs commuter service on the UP service carry over from CNW days. BNSF actually uses their employees for the service in Minnesota, and if I recall Seattle too.
Question for someone on the UP side: Since most Metra jobs are scheduled, I'm guessing they're all bid on by seniority, but then there's an extra board where you get substitute crews to cover jobs where people are on vacation, sick, etc. Is that extra board *only* for crews specifically assigned to Metra service, or if you're on that extra board can you be called for a freight assignment as well as commuter?

I think you can make a legitimate case for the elimination of purchase-of-service agreements in favor of Metra-employed crews if it can be proven that crews which could be assigned to Metra jobs (from the extra board) are getting put on freights instead.
  by qboy
 
UP provides its own extra board for each line separate from freight. When needed there are a number of freight qualified people to pull from when necessary to fill in, or to boast the boards to cover assignments.
  by MACTRAXX
 
Everyone: This is an interesting editorial and it shows how little patience train riders today have compared with the problems
Chicagoland experienced in some of the severe late 1970s winters and I have noted that these recent conditions are the most
severe since those days...I remember experiencing some of that weather myself and I recall how hard the CTA was affected
being a good example but the then-new RTA equipment on some commuter rail routes definitely helped to some extent...

I feel that there are some people that fail to notice or are indifferent to how severe weather can affect any mode of transportation...

People need to understand that given these conditions that there is only so much that can be done to work against these
obstacles and provide this vital rail service that many have come to rely on noting that rail is one of the best ways to go when
all other transport modes are substantially curtailed or not available...

MACTRAXX
  by lstone19
 
I was fortunately out of town for the last two+ weeks so didn't get to experience it first hand but one thing I've noticed in the past is even in serious irregular operations, Metra tries to stick to the scheduled stopping pattern even though with trains out of sequence or seriously delayed, the stopping pattern no longer makes sense. At that point, better to make everything all-stop locals and move people on the next train departing (particularly since when this happens, CUS, particularly on the south side, quickly become overcrowded).
  by justalurker66
 
I agree. Load and go with whatever trains are available making all stops is the best emergency plan. Get people off of the platforms and on to the trains. Let people stay on the trains until they reach their destination. A load and go operation would kill reverse commutes but it would serve more passengers overall.
  by doepack
 
Tadman wrote:Post-Hurricane Sandy, certain railroads were out of service for a while and today are still feeling lingering effects.
Looks like NJT definitely bore the brunt of that storm. Just curious: Since you frequent that board more often than I, are you aware of any newspaper or other articles that was critical of the pace of NJT's recovery; i.e., perhaps taking longer than expected? A quick Google search didn't turn up much...

qboy wrote:UP provides its own extra board for each line separate from freight. When needed there are a number of freight qualified people to pull from when necessary to fill in, or to boast the boards to cover assignments.
Can an extra board engineer work both freight and commuter if qualified, or are they restricted to one or the other? Does this apply to conductors as well?
Thanks for the replies, qboy, always appreciate your insight...
  by qboy
 
All UP Engineers are freight qualified thats where U start out at. In seniority order Engineers are then brought over to commuter to get qualified. Most commuter Engineers are strictly commuter there are some that will flow back on there own. They don't call Commuter Engineers or Trainman for freight jobs. They will call freight TE&Y for commuter assignments if they need to.
  by dinwitty
 
jeez, just about every foggy half stormy day the airlines get bogged down and if it happens in new york Chicago flights to it get delayed cancelled, go write up on them while the railroads just keep clogging away in those circumstances. Anytime it happens to the railroads its the chicago fire all over.

You do however have to use this as an example to improve service situations, how you change brake shoes ( I didnt know you changed them every few days)

You will have to look at this to improve switches, signals, train specifics etc etc. Have a service building for everyday passenger car maintenance so you can change them shoes in 5 minutes in a heated building.

But nobody can expect perfection in these weather conditions, try starting your car in this weather when the battery is cold and barely wants to start it.

Perhaps the passenger terminals need to close in the train area and heat it like roundhouses had doors.
There may be radiation heaters out there.
Doing that tho give higher requirements for electric passenger service if you have to close doors to vent exhausts, if your going to improve some service, that may be it.

South Shore just did not run, no busses, stay home.

but if we have more cold weather like this, in time you're just going to have to eke it out and get back to work, get the trains to run etc etc and live with it.