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Metra: Morning commute looks more promising

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 10:46 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 12:17 a.m. CDT
Metra employees board an inbound train to Chicago at the Cary station Tuesday, January 7, 2014. Snow and ice-packed railroad switches along with the number of hours railroad employees can work are causing delays, cancellations and headaches for Metra commuters. Sarah Nader- snader@shawmedia.com

Metra commuters dealing with delayed and cancelled trains the past two days should have better luck Wednesday morning, according to the rail company.

Metra reinstated its normal schedule for Tuesday evening's commute on the Northwest Line, although Metra spokesman Michael Gillis didn't rule out weather-related issues.

Snow- and ice-packed railroad switches along with federal limits on the number of hours railroad employees can work had caused delays and cancellations early Tuesday.

Four inbound Metra Northwest Line trains were canceled Tuesday morning. Trains that did depart, traveling either way, arrived with delays of at least a half-hour and as lengthy as an hour-and-a-half, according to Metra's website.

Delays persisted but shortened as morning turned to afternoon.

The cold weather combined with ice and drifting snow during the polar vortex impacted railroad switches, the points where trains are guided from one set of tracks to another. Metra has heaters at the switches, but they struggle during the severe cold, Gillis said.

In addition, trains traveling through cleared switches often leave behind ice in their tracks. That, and drifting snow, calls for increased manual labor to clear switches during the inclement conditions.

Under federal regulations, Metra had to ration its crew output after a long day Monday, Gillis said.

After widespread delays and cancellations Tuesday morning, Metra had only one line – the Burlington Northern Sante Fe line to Aurora – operating on a limited schedule Tuesday evening.

All schedules across the Chicago area were expected to go back to normal Wednesday, Gillis said.

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