The next step was to put together a plan for the evening rush, since it was clear the intersection would not be open by then. Using four sets of equipment, we arranged a limited schedule to Bartlett, with buses beyond to the three Elgin stops. Again, Metra did everything it could to alert riders. In all we sent more than 180 tweets and more than 90 E-Alerts in about a 24-hour period.
While officials downtown were planning for service and informing the passengers, other Metra workers were at the scene to determine the extent of the damage to its tracks and begin planning repairs.
Two of them were General Roadmaster Al Bobby and Milwaukee West Director of Engineering Larry Powell. Bobby and Powell quickly decided the best way to reestablish service was to install a straight track through the accident scene. Unfortunately, the pile of debris – and the still-burning fire – were centered over the two main tracks of the Milwaukee West line. However, there is a parallel track just to the south that is usually used by freight trains. It was also damaged and also had upended freight cars blocking it, but Bobby and Powell believed it would be faster to clear that track than either of the two main tracks. When Clifford and Hardwidge arrived a few hours later, the plan to concentrate efforts on the parallel track was worked out with CN and finalized.
Metra had to coordinate with CN to make sure debris was removed from the parallel track first, and it had to wait for fire department officials to extinguish some stubbornly burning rolls of paper from one of the cars. In the meantime, Metra crews immediately began assembling 40-foot panels of track off-site that would be used to rebuild that track. To repair the parallel track and both mainline tracks, about 260 feet of panels were ordered.
The parallel track was cleared of debris at about 7:30 p.m. But the fire wasn't out until about three hours later, and that's when the track repairs began in earnest. Because the panels were already assembled, it was simply a matter of laying them down and connecting them to each other and to the parallel track. Four hours later, the new track was ready for trains – which meant the Milwaukee West fleet was no longer trapped. Bobby and Powell, who did not sleep for more than 24 hours, then moved on to repairs to the mainline tracks.
In anticipation of getting the track open overnight, Transportation Department officials made plans to operate Friday's morning rush. Unblocking the intersection freed the fleet to serve the line's riders, but Metra knew the bottleneck created by the single-track operation would delay trains. That's why, starting Thursday night and into early Friday morning, Metra informed riders through its website, E-Alerts and through the media that trains would run but could be delayed by as much as 30 minutes.
From those who repaired the track to those who planned, communicated and operated the trains, workers from every department of Metra contributed to the successful resumption of service Friday. At 4:17 a.m. that day, train No. 2200 rolled out of Elgin on the line's first run of the morning. Sleepy riders were no doubt glad to board the train, even if they weren't aware of the huge effort put in by Metra to deliver it to their station.
Alerts Kept Riders Up To Date
The disruption of Milwaukee West Line service caused by the derailment of a CN train demonstrated why it's so important that its riders sign up to receive e-mail alerts.
In the 24-hour period after the accident, Metra sent about 90 separate alerts to Milwaukee West riders, notifying them about the disruption of service and updating them about our plans for resuming service at every point along the way. The information also was updated frequently on our website, www.metrarail.com.