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Metra Officials On Blizzard: We Could Have Done Better

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Metra commuter train makes it way along the tracks. (Credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Metra commuter train makes it way along the tracks. (Credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (WBBM) — Metra officials concede that they could have done a better job dealing with the Blizzard of 2011.

Metra had trains positioned, and crews in motels anywhere from two to five miles from most terminals. The transit agency was determined to run a regular Wednesday schedule until the early morning hours of Feb. 2.

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Normally such precautions would have worked, but Metra Deputy Executive Director Bill Tupper said drifting and blowing snow was so bad that even that short distance proved to be too much for crews to navigate.

“We couldn’t get crews to the [storage] yards,” he said. “It hampered the ability of our maintenance crews to move around to get to the [junctions], plow the platforms and get to the downtown yards.”

Metra ended up carrying a mere 4,000 riders Feb. 2. That’s 95 percent fewer customers than a normal weekday. Five lines were shut completely, and service was suspended by early evening on several other lines.

Tupper says Metra failed to get the word out to customers soon enough and clearly enough in part because similar planning has always worked.

“We here at Metra have always had a ‘can do’ spirit,” he said. “We had to tone down our expectations as management a little bit.”

Metra is still assessing what to do if another blizzard hits, and has already had debriefing sessions. But Tupper said Metra will try to station its crews before future winter storms as close to trains as possible.

He said that could mean terminating trains at stations that have adjacent motels or hotels, or possibly housing crews in terminal stations, with cots and food.

The problems facing Metra were posted during he blizzard, but at first were not initially on the commuter rail agency’s home page. That changed midway through the storm, following complaints, and Tupper said it will be the case during future emergencies.

“We need to recognize, in an unprecedented storm such as this, that we are not going to be able to run our normal service,” he said. “We need to acknowledge that and get it out.”

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