Updated 02/03/11 – 2:29 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicago Transit Authority President Rich Rodriguez apologized Thursday after many CTA trains were delayed or crowded to capacity when commuters began returning to work in the wake of this week’s blizzard.
As Chicagoans who stayed home during the blizzard began returning to work on Thursday, many of them struggled to get onto crowded CTA trains or in some cases, were forced to wait as overcrowded trains bypassed some stations.
Along some of the CTA’s rail lines, angry commuters were left stranded Thursday morning, as jam-packed ‘L’ trains passed them by during the morning rush.
While commuters who drive to work were relieved that Lake Shore Drive was back open, those who use the Chicago Transit Authority discovered that many trains were so packed that they couldn’t get on.
Train after crowded train went past several stops without stopping, leaving hundreds of commuters on outdoor platforms in bitter single-digit or subzero cold.
CTA President Rich Rodriguez said Thursday morning that the problems were the result of large crowds of commuters using the CTA’s busiest rail lines, rather than driving.
As side streets went unplowed until early Thursday, many commuters had no other option but public transit.
“Operators on the Red, Brown and Blue Lines saw heavy rush hour loads for first time since the snowstorm while ridership on the other rail lines remains light to moderate,” Rodriguez said.
One commuter said he witnessed muttering, swearing and kicking snow, as he gave up on the Blue Line. Several other would-be passengers at the Damen Blue Line stop in Wicker Park had equally frustrating experiences.
“Nobody’s talking, and everyone’s sighing when a train comes by,” commuter Gina Biel said. “It’s bad. Nobody’s going anywhere.”
“I’m headed to 600 W. Chicago, and I went to get on the train. They said it was going to be 40 minutes. So I turned back around and I tried to find a cab, and I can’t find a cab, so now I’m walking back to the train just to wait,” commuter Emily Dolin said.
“I’m going to take my chances with the bus this morning and see what happens,” commuter Kristin Kaza said.
Rodriguez said the problems on the Blue Line stemmed from an equipment problem one one train that resulted in delays for other trains behind it.
“On the Blue Line, we experienced a 20-minute delay this morning due to an equipment problem and it resulted in some very crowded trains and some long waits for riders. We apologize for that,” Rodriguez said. “The trains on the Blue Line are our oldest and the cars average over 40 years old. So in this weather they are more prone to problems than newer equipment. We’re working hard to keep everything moving and very much looking forward to the new rail cars we’ll be receiving in the near future.”
The Score-670 AM webmaster Matt Mencarini took the Red Line to work Thursday morning, and experienced a far more difficult commute than usual.
Mencarini said he arrived on the inbound platform for the Sheridan stop at 7:50 a.m., to find it packed. One Red Line train bypassed the station without stopping, while another was too packed to board. Mencarini ended up boarding a northbound train, getting off at Wilson, and doubling back south.
During the blizzard Tuesday and Wednesday, CTA service had to be suspended on some lines. The Yellow Line-Skokie Swift was shut down altogether, since much of it runs on grade level and thus was easily hampered by blowing and drifting snow. The Pink Line was also shut down between Pulaski and 54/Cermak, and the Brown Line was briefly suspended Wednesday morning between Western and Kimball due to a power problem.
But all ‘L’ lines were running on their complete routes by Thursday morning.
Rodriguez said that 200 CTA executives and administrative workers have been helping to clear snow from CTA bus stops and train stations on Thursday.
CTA service has been an issue previously during major blizzards.
When a blizzard dumped 18.8 inches of snow on top of an existing 7 to 10 inches in January 1979, the CTA took significant heat for bypassing African-American neighborhoods on the West Side as they made runs from downtown to Oak Park.
The CTA service after the blizzard was one of several frustrations that turned Chicagoans against Mayor Michael Bilandic, and led to his defeat by Jane Byrne in February.
CBS 2 Web Producer Adam Harrington contributed to this report.