Blowing snow and subzero temperatures inconvenienced many Metra passengers. 753 Metra trains run out of Chicago’s Union Station every day but only 30% of them ran on time during the January snowstorm.
At the Naperville Municipal Center, Metra’s new executive director Donald Orseno offered local riders an explanation behind the delays, like switches covered in snow.
“Every time you’re cleaning the switches off, the trains are coming through and putting more snow on the switches rendering them inoperable and they’ve got to have someone come in there and move the snow from it,” said Orseno.
For each switch that malfunctions as many as 50 trains could be affected.
Another issue: Break shoes typically take ten minutes to change and mechanics have to do so on average every seven days. During the winter that’s every three days and with snow and ice caked on, can take up to an hour.
But many local residents weren’t having any of it, claiming that Metra was trying to use weather to cover their tracks for far deeper problems.
“Metra’s performance over the last several years has been abysmal whether it’s spring, summer, fall,” said a longtime customer. “We have mechanical problems, switch problems. It’s everything. Ten minutes late is the new normal on time.”
“You can be patient and we all understand that there are weather-related problems. But in Naperville, trains are super overcrowded every day!” said a local passenger.
“Your newsletter gives a number for complaints. I called and nobody picks it up. Why should we be surprised when there are problems?” said another rider.
Orseno assured the audience of about 50 that Metra is taking measures to improve its services – like adding a dynamic, real-time train tracker on its website but that won’t be implemented until the summer.
The company also wants to invest in new equipment, like heavy-duty blowers to clear snow that uses readily available diesel fuel, instead of the current blowers that consume jet fuel that must be trucked in.
But the new blowers cost $450,000 a piece and Metra’s state of good repairs is already at a $9.7 billion shortfall.
It can’t afford basic equipment upgrades as it is, let alone additional gear – so the organization is working with congress to acquire more funding.
“I don’t think we’re getting as much as we should – we’d like to get more but bottom line is we need a much bigger funding stream to accomplish the tasks we want to accomplish,” said Orseno.
State representatives Darlene Senger and Ron Sandack hosted the discussion and were so pleased with the turnout, they may host another hearing with Metra in the near future.
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