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Warmup Won’t End Switching Problems For Metra, Amtrak

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Metra crews work on clearing switches amid subzero temperatures in January. (CBS)

Metra crews work on clearing switches amid subzero temperatures in January. (CBS)

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Bob Roberts is a native of Wilmette who has worked in Chicago media...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Metra canceled two early morning trains on Friday, while service on Amtrak to Detroit, St. Louis, Quincy and Carbondale remains on a reduced schedule, due to continuing mechanical problems from the cold weather.

Train No. 624 on the Union Pacific Northwest Line, scheduled to depart from Crystal Lake at 7 a.m. for the Ogilvie Transportation Center, was canceled on Friday. Additionally, Train No. 13 on the Union Pacific West Line, originally scheduled to depart for Ogilvie at 5:53 a.m. from Elburn, was canceled due to mechanical problems after a delay early Friday, according to Metra.

Trains go through switches every day, and ice falling off the passing trains is what is making the switches inoperable. Much of what railroad track repair crews do has been made easier by machinery, but Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said cleaning out ice that blocks switches is still done with a pick axe, a shovel, and a broom — a process that can take 20 minutes or more per switch.

Magliari called the work by track crews “heroic,” and knows there’s some grumbling, but said, “Overwhelmingly, the majority of our passengers and (Metra) passengers understand and appreciate that. Is it perfect? No. Is it frustrating? Yes. But are most trains going most places, even with some delay? The answer, there again, is yes.”

Metra spokesperson Meg Thomas Reile said its track repair crews have worked 12 hour on, 12 hour off shifts for more than a week to minimize delays. Reile said the warmer weather in the forecast will not end the threat. She said it means more ice will be falling off of trains, and said some of it is likely to foul switches.

Although most important switches in and around downtown train terminals and the areas on commuter rail lines have either kerosene or electric heaters, Reile said ice falling off of trains cannot be melted by such heaters, making the work by track repair crews critical.

Amtrak issued a revised schedule for Friday that adds service on the Chicago-Detroit corridor, but it again will cancel two St. Louis round trips, one Detroit round-trip, one Quincy round trip and one Carbondale round-trip.

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