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BNSF to use alternative snow schedule Friday

(February 8, 2018) - 

With a major snowstorm heading our way, Metra’s BNSF Line to Aurora will operate on an alternative schedule Friday to minimize the potential for weather-related service disruptions. Metra also is mobilizing its crews and snow-fighting resources to make sure Friday’s morning and evening commutes are as safe, comfortable and reliable as possible.

“We will be doing everything we can to prepare for and combat this major winter storm,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “We will also do everything we can to make sure our customers are up to date with the latest information about their trains.”

Metra’s busiest line, the BNSF Line, will use an alternative service schedule Friday that reduces the number of trains overall on the BNSF Line to 84 from 94. The schedule should provide adequate service while allowing BNSF to minimize switching moves that are often the cause of delays during heavy snow and ice conditions. The alternative schedule for the BNSF Line can be found here.

Customers are advised to give themselves plenty of time to travel to their stations, park and walk to the boarding platform. They should also expect delays; in addition to the possibility of weather-related issues, more customers are likely to use Metra trains when the weather is severe, and the addition of customers unfamiliar with our system can increase boarding time and cause trains to fall behind schedule.

Customers are also advised that the forecast calls for continuing snow overnight Thursday through Friday evening’s rush hour. Metra is dispatching about 350 workers overnight Thursday to shovel and salt platforms and other areas that are Metra’s responsibility to clear, but we do not have a separate crew for every station. We will make every effort to clear every station, but if the snow continues as expected, it will accumulate again after being cleared the first time, and it is likely that some station areas and platforms may not be completely clear when customers arrive.

As we do with other storms of this size, Metra has taken and will take a variety of steps to combat the snow and ice. Those include:

  • Dispatching Metra signal/switch maintainers to key locations and staffing them 24/7. The switches must remain free of snow and ice, and while all mainline switches have heaters to help keep them clear, sometimes the snow and ice falls too fast or falls from a passing train and the switches need to be cleared manually with brooms, shovels or picks. 
  • Putting extra mechanics in the field to quickly address mechanical issues.
  • Fueling our locomotives in outlying rail yards overnight. Fueling is normally done as part of the midday servicing routine. But, because the locomotives must be disconnected from their cars to be fueled, fueling them during winter storm conditions can take longer and cause yard congestion and train delays. We’ll fuel them Thursday night to help with operations Friday.
  • Leaving our engines on overnight. Locomotives don’t like the cold any more than we do. If it’s too cold we keep the engines on so they are ready when we need them.
  • Putting crews and equipment in place to keep our 24 rail yards clear and operational. Bottlenecks in yards can result in delays getting trains in place for timely departures. Metra uses high-powered hot-air jet blowers and cold-air blowers in the yards to clear the snow and prevent blowing and drifting. Metra has also installed heaters on more than 40 of our most critical yard switches.
  • Using about 45 snow plows to clear snow, not counting the equipment used by our parking vendor and the numerous municipalities responsible for clearing parking lots and other areas around most of our suburban stations.

Customer communications

Metra understands the importance of providing reliable, real-time communications to help our customers make decisions about their travel options during severe weather and offers a number of tools to give them access to the most up-to-date service information. Those include:

  • Email alerts – Customers can sign up to receive service alerts via email for a specific rail line during the times of day that are most important to them. To sign up, visit metrarail.com to create an account.
  • Ventra App – Customers can download the app and use the Transit Tracker for information about Metra trains, Pace buses and CTA trains and buses. The free app is available in the App Store or Google Play.
  • Twitter – Customers can visit twitter.com to follow each of Metra’s 11 rail lines or receive more general information about agency operations.
  • Passenger Services – Customers can call 312-322-6777 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with questions about train schedules and service.

Tips for traveling on Metra during winter weather:

  • Visit the National Weather Service website for the latest weather forecast and storm-related information.
  • Watch local television and listen to local radio stations for Metra travel and service updates.
  • Use caution when walking on wet or icy station platforms.
  • If you are already traveling, listen for announcements at stations and on trains.
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