Freight Train Derails, Halts Metra North Central Service

Roadways, airports, rails affected by bitter cold temperatures

Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014  |  Updated 6:02 AM CDT
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Getting to your destination on Tuesday morning may be complicated by what's expected to be one of the coldest days of an already-frigid season.

Getting to your destination on Tuesday morning may be complicated by what's expected to be one of the coldest days of an already-frigid season.

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UPDATE: Metra's North Central Service Resumes Wednesday Morning...

A derailed freight train halted service on Metra's North Central Service early Tuesday morning, causing the biggest snag in what was otherwise a mostly-unremarkable morning commute.

Metra officials said service on the line would be suspended "until further notice" after a CN freight train came off the tracks near Mundelein.

The North Central Service operates between Chicago and north suburban Antioch, and commuters were encouraged to use the Milwaukee District North Line, which runs from Chicago to Fox Lake, as an alternative, said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis.

Other Metra lines reported delays, some fairly significant. Metra engineering and maintenance staff worked overtime Monday and into Tuesday morning to make sure critical switches were clear of snow. Additionally, trains were fueled Monday night -- instead of midday Tuesday -- and their engines were left running overnight to keep delays to a minimum.

"I work on the equipment, and when you work on the equipment and it's this cold, the equipment just doesnt want to cooperate," BNSF worker Peter Dondey said Monday evening.

Metra officials last week tried to diminish expectations and warned of potential delays because of extremely cold temperatures.

"In the interest of safety, we will be operating at reduced speeds, if necessary, to reduce the stress on the rails," read a statement. "Cold weather often leads to slower boarding and we therefore expect station stops to be longer than usual."

They noted the last time the area saw this persistent combination of snow and cold was three decades ago, during the winter of 1983-84.

On the roadways, crews reported several spin-outs on Chicago-area expressways by 5 a.m. Tuesday, apparently due to black ice.

"Black ice is hard to spot. It may look clear, but once you get up on it, it's slippery, and you can find yourself out of control in a matter of seconds," IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller said.

The Chicago Transit Authority outfitted train cars with mechanical scrapers and applied a special de-icing compound to help blast through ice and snow on the rails. No significant problems were reported.

"I think they learned from a couple weeks ago, and implemented some things, so it won't affect commuters like last," CTA passenger John Goings said.

The bitter conditions caused airlines to proactively cancel more than 520 flights at O’Hare International Airport, where most other flights were delayed at least 15 minutes, according to the city’s Department of Aviation. At least 105 flights were canceled at Midway Airport.

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