CHICAGO (CBS) — How to prevent another Metra meltdown.

Metra wants to dispatch its own trains out of Union Station. That’s currently Amtrak’s job.  CBS 2 political reporter Derrick Blakley has the story about commuter concerns that brought about a congressional hearing on Tuesday.

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The agony of February 28 is what led to the hearing. That’s when an Amtrak computer blackout led to the stranding of more than tens of thousands of Metra commuters. Now, Metra said it can do a better job of dispatching its trains.

“Metra riders are not getting the service they deserve and this needs to change,” said Representative Dan Lipinski (D-Chicago.)

And exhibit A, according to Congressman Lipinski, was the February 28 meltdown that stranded Union Station Metra commuters for hours, after Amtrak tried to alter its computer program in the Chicago dispatch center.

“It seems like common sense not to do an upgrade during peak time,” said Western Springs Mayor Alice Gallagher.

And it wasn’t supposed to be, said Amtrak, but one manager didn’t get the message.

“The technician accidentally shorted the communications equipment which disabled the primary and backup systems at 14th Street,” said Ray Lang of Amtrak.

Since the foul-up, Amtrak has installed new digital backup links to those servers to prevent a repeat.

But Metra wants to go further. It wants to dispatch its own trains at Union Station, something Amtrak now does and said that could have helped in February’s collapse.

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“In this particular event, the only way to efficiently start moving the trains was to actually get personnel on the ground,” said Metra CEO James Derwinski. “We have the ability to surge that control because we have a greater density of a workforce in this region.”

But Amtrak replied forget about it.

“We dispatch almost 800,000 trains a year. I think we do a very good job,” Lang said. “When we have the best on time performance is when we control our own destiny. We’re not interested in giving up control of Chicago’s Union Station.

Lipinski is not convinced a repeat isn’t in the cards.

“It’s impossible to be reassured this is not going to happen again. There’s no way of knowing,” Lipinski said.

Something else the hearing revealed: Amtrak and Metra never had regular operational meetings until the February 28 collapse.

Now, they meeting once a month.


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