CHICAGO (CBS) — Metra officials said to expect major delays into Thursday evening as only one train can move at a time following a computer signal problem that halted trains heading in and out of Union Station for about 90 minutes in the morning.
Trains are moving again, but with extensive delays. BNSF officials said the trains are operating on a “load and go” schedule, meaning the trains will depart when they are filled to capacity rather than on a set schedule.
Metra said an Amtrak computer signal problem forced the commuter rail agency to stop all inbound and outbound train movement near Union Station around 8:30 a.m. Amtrak owns the train depot at Union Station.
Trains were moving again by about 10 a.m. but with extensive delays. An Amtrak spokesperson said signals were being operated manually, rather than automatically, while the computer problem is fixed.
The manual effort is taking 20 to 25 minutes per train.
“In my time here, which is now about 18 years, I have not seen a signal, control system outage of this duration,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. “But you can be assured that we’re going to drill into what happened here, see if there was redundancy that did or didn’t work, see what we could have done to make this a shorter interruption.”
The signal problem is affecting trains on the BNSF Railway, Milwaukee District West, North Central Service, Milwaukee District North, Southwest Service, and Heritage Corridor lines.
Some passengers said they were stuck on stalled trains for up to two hours. Some riders were allowed to get off trains at Canal Street, just outside Union Station, while trains were stopped.
“We crept along for a little while and then just stopped,” said BNSF rider Mike Mistele. He said his hour commute turned to 2.5 hours, and he never made it to Union Station. “And finally by about 10, they pulled ahead a little bit to the Western Ave. Station, opened the doors, and they said, ‘You might want to get off now. We have no idea how long we’re going to be sitting here.”
Bob Thomas was stalled much closer to the station, but he couldn’t get off.
“We sat for an hour and 45 minutes,” he said. “You could see the station, so it wasn’t too far.”
Many riders CBS 2 spoke with complained of recent delays.
“Recently it’s happened a lot,” said BNSF rider Dan Schafer. “There have been delays. There have been problems on the line.”
Metra’s performance records show that they’re right.
In 2018, 10,241 Metra trains were delayed. Of those, 337 were due to switch or signal failures by foreign carriers like the one Amtrak experienced Thursday.
That’s up more than 15 percent from the average for the five year period before. Total train delays in 2018 were also up.
“I know that once or twice a month this happens now,” Mistele said. “And so I have a Ventra card. I always make sure I’ve got some money on it.”
The cause of the outage has not been determined, an Amtrak official said.