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Metra Boss Faces Lawmakers’ Questions About Winter Delays

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CHICAGO (CBS) – State lawmakers put the new head of Metra on the hot seat Monday over frequent weather delays during the record cold this winter.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Metra Executive Director Don Orseno testified Monday morning at a public hearing of the Illinois House Mass Transit Committee.

Orseno said, during the worst days of snow and cold, Metra’s on-time record dropped to 30 percent, due to a variety of problems. Many trains were delayed for up to two hours on Jan. 6 due to frozen switches and tracks.

Though delays since then haven’t been as bad, Metra repeatedly has been hampered by delays this winter as temperatures have often plunged below zero.

State Rep. David Harris (R-Mount Prospect) wondered if Orseno would be tough enough to solve the problems that have plagued Metra.

“We have a saying in the military that there are times when you have to kick ass and take names,” Harris said. “You have assumed a difficult position. You are a highly qualified individual who can probably do this without question. At the same time, you have been there a long time. You know everyone in the system. There’s something good about that, but there’s also something bad about that.”

Orseno was blunt in his response.

“If you and I did have an opportunity to meet, and you knew me, I don’t think you’d be asking that question,” he said. “I don’t have a problem doing that.”

Orseno said a number of smaller issues, including snow and debris on switches, train-door malfunctions and federal laws restricting the number of hours crews can work, all added to the problems.

State lawmakers praised Orseno for explaining what happened, but they said he fell short of addressing how the service meltdown could be prevented in the future.

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