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RTA Chairman Orders Review Of Metra Performance In Wake Of Cold Weather Problems

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(CBS) — Metra has begun a self-examination of its performance in this month’s snow and bitter cold, even as the Regional Transportation Authority orders its own review.

RTA Chairman John Gates said Wednesday that he wants a staff review of operations at both Metra and the CTA, although the focus is clearly Metra.

“There were serious delays that seemed to exceed those of comparable systems that experienced similar weather conditions around the country,” Gates said.

Gates also said there was extremely poor communication between Metra and its riders, although he praised the efforts of Metra and CTA workers during the severe weather.

Gates said he wants answers within 60 days, and spoke of seeking penalties against the Union Pacific R.R. and BNSF Ry., although their contracts to provide service for Metra contain neither performance standards nor penalties for poor performance.

One day after issuing an apology to riders, and saying a series of problems converged to create delays and cancellations to hundreds of trains, Metra Interim CEO Don Orseno chaired a meeting of top Metra managers and counterparts from both railroads’ commuter divisions to discuss the “nuts and bolts” of what happened, said Metra spokesperson Meg Thomas Reile.

Reile called the 2-1/2 hour meeting “productive,” and said managers, both from Metra and from the railroads, were tasked with developing answers to some of the more persistent problems that have slowed or canceled service since New Year’s Eve.

Senior Union Pacific officials will travel from the railroad’s headquarters, in Omaha, Neb., for a meeting with Orseno Friday.

Gates indicated that he wants to see Metra address some of its deferred maintenance and rehabilitation through use of its $1 billion bonding authority, which is untouched.

Metra has indicated that it needs $9.7 billion over the next 10 years to achieve a state of good repair.

“They seem to be funding long-term multi-decade infrastructure (needs) with very short-term capital,” he said. “It’s like trying to buy a house utilizing your weekly paycheck. It’s not a solution that makes sense.”

“Union Pacific apologizes, not only for the equipment shortages on many of our trains but for the delays,” said spokesman Mark Davis.

Davis said UP and Metra repair crews continue to repair damage inflicted by the storm, heavy ice and bitter cold to locomotives and the fleet of bilevel cars used on the three UP-operated commuter lines.

Davis said he is not aware of any penalty provisions in the railroad’s contract with Metra, but said, “Our goal is the same as Metra’s — 95 percent on-time performance.”

He conceded that weather conditions since New Year’s Eve have made it a “rough start” to 2014 for the railroad.

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