Metra preps for extreme heat

RELATED TOPICS: COMMUTER | TRANSIT | CHICAGO | OPERATIONS
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CHICAGO – Metra officials say Wednesday the commuter rail agency is taking safety precautions due to extreme heat expected over the next few days, and is being proactive to prevent last summer’s “hot car” problems.

The agency started the day with an announcement via Twitter that trains will operate at reduced speeds due to the potential triple-digit temperatures predicted for Thursday through Saturday.

“Reduced speeds will ultimately result in slightly longer travel times,” Metra warns. The agency explained that when temperatures exceed 95 degrees, Metra is required to reduce train speed by 10 mph to compensate for heat-related stress on the tracks.

“This is a required safety practice that we must follow,” Bruce Marcheschi, Metra’s deputy executive director/chief operating officer, says.

Most of the Chicago area will be under an Excessive Heat Watch for several days as heat index values could rise as high as 112 degrees in some places.

But while trains may be slower, the passengers should be more comfortable than last summer because of improved maintenance of the air conditioning units on Metra’s coach cars, Marcheschi says.

“I’m happy to say this year was a great improvement over last year,” he says. The number of reported problems are down by 78 percent, he said.

“We are attacking this problem,” Marcheschi says. “When we do get a complaint … we get on top of it right away.”

The problem of “hot cars” due to air conditioning failures was especially acute last summer on the BNSF line, Metra’s busiest. Tempers boiled over quickly among customers in standing-room-only cars with 90-degree temperatures. Riders lit up Twitter with gripes.

Metra’s board has summoned BNSF officials twice to explain the cause for the problems. The Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF Railway operates the line under contract to Metra.

On any day, 12 to 14 of the 211 coaches in the BNSF line’s fleet were experiencing problems with air conditioning, with many cars having repeated breakdowns.

Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski also says that crews will be stationed and ready to respond quickly if mechanical breakdowns occur.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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