Last winter's polar vortex wreaked havoc on Metra, causing switching problems and delays on multiple lines. This year, the transit agency wants commuters to know things will be different.
“Nobody wants a repeat of last winter, the coldest and snowiest winter since Metra was formed in 1984," Metra Executive Director Don Orseno said in a statement. "We believe the steps we have taken leave us and our riders better prepared for winter’s punch."
What's different? For starters, Metra invested $1.25 million into three, new cold-air blowers that blast 525-mph bursts of air to forcefully clear ice and snow from blocked switches and tracks in yards without melting it.
Switch heaters also were added to what the agency calls the 20 most critical switches at its Western Avenue Coach Yard, which typically experiences more issues with cold and snow than other yards.
Other changes include a “customize your commute” email alert system that lets riders to choose when they want to receive updates. This, plus a series of "blanket alerts," lets riders know about possible issues as soon as they arise.
Updates also were made to Metra's online “Rail-time Tracker” tool to give the latest updates about schedule adjustments and statuses, especially in bad weather conditions.
If extreme weather comes into play, Metra may implement alternative schedules, which are posted on the agency's website.
"If Metra decides to implement the alternative schedules, it will provide advance notice to riders via its website, email alerts and Chicago area news media," Metra said. "The alternative schedules would also be uploaded into the train tracker and schedule finder tool for the days that they are in effect."