Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Metra polishes its winter readiness plan

Metra polishes its winter readiness plan Mark Llanuza

As forecasters continue to warn the Chicago area of an exceptionally cold and snowy winter, Metra has completed preparations for the likely challenging season ahead.



“Snow, ice and cold temperatures make winter travel a challenge for everyone in Chicago, including Metra,” said Metra Executive Director and CEO Don Orseno. “We are bracing for a challenging snow season and have taken all the steps we can to be ready for winter’s bite.”

The commuter railroad says it takes several steps yearly to brace for the winter weather, including: 


  • Inspects and tests Metra’s 463 mainline switches along the Milwaukee North and West, Metra Electric, Rock Island and SouthWest Service. The BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad companies perform similar work, representatives say.
  • Crews test nozzles on 275 hot-air switch heaters. The nozzles supercharge the heat to provide maximum performance and concentrate the hot air where it is specifically needed. BNSF also has nozzles on its hot-air switch heaters and UP has them on many heaters.
  • Workers inspect and test the remaining 188 mainline switch heaters that use gas flames or electric current. BNSF and UP complete similar work.
  • Snow and ice shields are inspected on 73 switches, which cover part of the switch machinery and concentrate and contain the hot air from the switch heaters. BNSF and UP also use shields on many switches.
  • Inspects doors on old cars for defects, worn guides and corrosion. Gaps in door pockets created during train operations can fill with fine snow and extreme temperatures can turn this snow into ice that jams doors and causes delays.
  • Stockpile 63,000 bags or more than 3.1 million pounds of salt to cover the platforms and other important areas.
  • Inspects and tests the 45 snow plows at its disposal
  • Inspects and tests Metra’s three cold-air blowers and five hot-air jet blowers to clear its largest and most critical yards.


Metra noted that no railroad can completely eliminate the common winter switch problem of snow and ice build-up on the underside of locomotives and train cars, which falls off of trains and onto switches as trains pass over them.

While snow and ice can restrict switches from making necessary contact with the rails, Metra says it routinely assigns employees to key switching locations during winter storms to maintain clear switches.

When extreme weather conditions interrupt regular service, Metra may implement snow schedules to give the agency more flexibility and allow more passengers to reach their destinations on time. Metra says its snow schedules include about 75–80 percent of regular service.

Metra is encouraging customers to subscribe to its emailed service alerts, follow their respective rail line on Twitter, log in to the Ventra app or use the railroad’s Line Map feature online to track their train’s real-time location throughout the winter months.

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