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Metra Rail Partner: Service Meltdown Won’t Happen Again

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Jay Levine Jay Levine
Jay Levine is the chief correspondent for CBS 2 Chicago. He joined...
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(CBS) – Representatives for a Nebraska-based railroad that works with Metra to move commuters apologized Friday for its role in service disruptions during last week’s bitter cold snap.

“Our performance was unacceptable, but I stand by our team and we will do everything possible to make sure that we’re much better prepared for the next storm,” David Connell, a Union Pacific vice president, said as he addressed the Metra board.

Both the Union Pacific and Metra stressed that Friday’s meeting was meant to explain — not justify — what happened earlier this month. Also on hand were officials from the Burlington North railroad.

Commuter service was severely disrupted by the New Year’s one-two punch of snow and cold last week. That buried tracks, froze switches and disrupted fueling.

The problems led to decisions like the one made by a UP controller in Omaha that dumped passengers onto an exposed Metra platform on the coldest day in decades.

“I could not believe that such a decision would come out of an organization such as yours,” Metra Board Member Arlene Mulder said. “To put people at risk in those temperatures is just unbelievable. I can’t imagine anyone making that decision.”

Connell promised that protocols were quickly put into place that will prevent such potential danger to passengers in the future.

Among the reforms: better communication between those making the decisions and people on the ground.

No one appeared to be hiding behind the excuse that this was a perfect storm of snow and ice.

More harsh weather is set for next week.

“There’s a lot of scrutiny on this. We are going be working overtime to make sure everything is where it needs to be,” the UP’s Wes Lujan said.

The fact is, there’s not a whole lot Metra can do. The Union Pacific and Burlington Northern are basically freight-haulers that also carry some commuters because there’s no one else to do it.

There’s effectively no one for Metra to turn to, no matter how bad the remote-control management gets.

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