CHICAGO (CBS) — Trains on three busy Metra lines were halted for about 90 minutes Monday morning, out of fear of high winds from storms that swept through the area, but it appears to have been much ado about nothing.
Metra stopped all trains on the Union Pacific North, Northwest, and West lines around 5:30 a.m., due to the possibility of dangerously high winds. Trains didn’t continue running until 7 a.m., creating significant delays for thousands of Metra commuters.READ MORE: 16-Year-Old Charged In 2 Carjackings In Chicago's Douglas Neighborhood
Metra doesn’t make the call to halt service on those lines; that’s up to Union Pacific, which owns the lines.
Wind speeds of up to 60 mph were predicted, which is enough to shake a Metra car off the tracks, so Union Pacific – which runs those three lines – halted service as the storm approached.
“Those lighter weight cars are very susceptible to higher winds,” Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said.
However, as the morning passed, extreme weather did not surface, and Union Pacific admitted it made the call to halt service too soon. It relied first on weather forecasts, and not a system of anemometers – or wind speed sensors – on the ground.
“Safety for us is always number one,” Davis said. “They want to be sure that they don’t put the commuters in any kind of danger.”
Union Pacific’s dispatch center in Omaha decided to halt trains, based on reports from its weather consultants, who aren’t necessarily in Chicago; but as dispatch later assessed data from wind speed monitors along its tracks in Illinois, and spoke with crews on the ground, managers realized trains could have been rolling all along.READ MORE: Larry Scott, 32 Charged In May 1 Murder Of Travis Willis In West Pullman
“We want them to understand and know that we’re looking out for their safety,” Davis said.
Experts say wind gusts above 60 miles an hour can topple trains.
“Lower wind gust have also toppled in the past It depends on the wind direction, how much area is exposed, how the train is loaded and some forth,” said Dr. Ganesh Raman of IIT.
Dr. Raman says Metra’s double decker trains are especially at risk.
Commuter Kurt Drain said he’s glad officials were erring on the side of caution, but he said it was still frustrating.
“You’d hope that there’d be a little bit more hands-on ability to determine what’s actually going on,” he said.
Ironically, it’s the system of anemometers along Union Pacific’s tracks that is supposed to help the railroad make the most educated decisions for service and safety. Data from that system was reviewed Monday morning, just not in time to avoid the halt in service, but in enough time to get things back on track.MORE NEWS: While Learning Remotely, Northwest Suburban Band Class Project Spanned The Country
A Metra spokesperson now says, “We have reached out to Union Pacific and received their commitment that in the future they will rely on data from the anemometers when making decisions about operating during high wind events.”