IL: Metra Apologizes for Locomotive Breakdowns

May 21--Metra apologized to customers today for two locomotive breakdowns that caused hundreds of passengers on the UP Northwest line to be stuck on board trains for up to three hours.

The disruption Monday night stemmed from two separate mechanical issues, one on the 4:45 p.m. train to McHenry (No. 631) and the other involving the 5:33 p.m. train to Harvard (No. 647), Metra said. The two problems resulted in delays to about 20 trains.

Train No. 631 broke down near Irving Park and had to be pushed back to the Clybourn Station by an inbound locomotive, Metra said.

Later, train No. 647 developed mechanical problems at Barrington, preventing other trains from passing or unloading, including a train that had picked up riders who had been aboard the first locomotive to break down.

Customers complained of confusion and lack of communication.

"As a passenger on the first train to break down, I sat in confusion with fellow riders as no announcements were made after the initial news that the engine had broken down," Lake Zurich resident Benjamin Goode told the Tribune.

Metra said it was working with the Union Pacific Railroad, which operates the line under contract, to analyze the problem and improve performance.

"Our goal is to always keep passengers as informed as possible with regard to delays or inconvenience," Metra said in a statement. "We understand our passengers' frustration and are working with our partners at the UP to analyze yesterday's events in an effort to improve our performance -- including as it pertains to customer communication."

Passengers questioned whether it was it bad luck for two trains to break down in one day or an indication of serious equipment problems.

Last Friday, Metra's board was told that the agency saves millions by rehabilitating its existing fleet of 144 locomotives, 50 of which date back to the 1970s, compared to buying new ones.

Officials also pointed to improved on-time performance in April versus March. Overall on-time service was 96.8 percent for April, versus 94.9 percent the previous month, officials said.

The UP Northwest came in at 98.6 percent on-time for April, Metra said.

rwronski@tribune.com

Twitter @richwronski

Copyright 2014 - Chicago Tribune

Loading