After tough morning commute, travel still risky

Staff report

The extreme cold has caused some extreme travel problems on highways, trains and at airports this morning.

Major roads were closed in Indiana, significant delays were reported on nearly every Metra and CTA line and more than 1,500 flights were canceled at the city’s two airports. And along every interstate, cars had spun into ditches causing gapers’ blocks and creating an arduous morning commute.

As Chicago officials predicted, it was best to stay home if you could.

“Everyday activities may not be feasible,” Gary Schenkel, executive director of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, warned on Sunday. “If you can stay indoors, please do so.”

His words — especially for those who didn’t heed them — proved prophetic.

Northern Indiana was virtually closed to travel. Interstate 94 was shuttered in both directions from the Illinois state line to Michigan City, while Interstate 65 was shut down in both direction between Gary and Lafayette. All South Shore trains were canceled.

State officials in Indiana were to meet later today to discuss when to reopen interstates, which have been closed since Sunday.

“There is not timetable to reopen the roads at this time,”  said Matt Deitchley, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation. “Even where the roads have been cleared, it’s pretty much s a sheet of ice out there, and it’s very dangerous.”

Crews were working to clear the pavement and tow cars that had been abandoned overnight, Deitchley said. Some motorists on Interstate 65 near Lowell were stranded for hours as crews worked to free their vehicles.

Some motorists have ignored barricades at highway entrances, Indiana State Police spokeswoman Sgt. Ann Wojas said. “They go around the barriers and then they end up getting themselves stuck and endangering others and the people that have to come help them,” Wojas said.

In Illinois, Interstate 57 was down to one lane through Kankakee, Iroquois and Ford counties, with blowing snow making the road impassable between Ashkum and Buckley.

The Southern Illinois University basketball team can testify to difficulties of traveling downstate, as the team bus got stuck in a snowstorm on I-57 Sunday and players were forced to spend the night in a church.

In the Chicago area, Illinois State Police reported multiple spinouts and minor accidents during the morning commute. The incidents prompted multiple lane closures on major expressways, snarling traffic and doubling drive times in some instances.

Mass transit, however, wasn’t necessarily a great alternative to icy roads.

The list of delays and cancellations on Metra lines was long, made worse by a collision between a train and a semi that resulted in 14 minor injuries.

The accident happened on the Milwaukee District North Line when a train due to arrive in Chicago about 6:20 a.m. hit the truck near Touhy Avenue in Niles. The train continued south and stopped in Chicago.

Three people were taken to Swedish Covenant Hospital in good-to-fair condition, according to the Chicago Fire Department, and 11 others complained of pain but refused ambulance transport to a hospital. Paramedics evaluated about 150 people on the train, according to the fire department.

Another Metra train hit a bumping post as it pulled into Chicago’s LaSalle Street station, prompting six people to be taken to area hospitals with minor injuries. A rail agency spokesman said the train was traveling at a low rate of speed when the collision occurred.

Other Metra delays included:

• Inbound and Outbound trains on the Rock Island District Line were experiencing delays as long as 75 minutes

• On the Milwaukee District West Line, a train scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 10:58 a.m., is running 52 minutes late

• On the on the North Central Service line, a train slated to arrive in Antioch at 10:34 a.m., is 85 minutes behind due to inclement weather conditions, a switch failure near Western Avenue and the late arrival of equipment, according to the agency’s website.

• On the Metra Electric District, the South Shore Commuter Rail Service was suspended in light of the bad weather.

Most of delays were caused by frozen switches, Metra said.

“To keep them from being jammed, they’re equipped with heaters. And we do have extra personnel at these key locations, and we’ve had all weekend and we’ve had mechanics repairing equipment and maintainers around the system but we still can have issues, despite that,” Metra spokesman Tom Miller said.

Some Metra trains were making it downtown at normal speeds only to stack up outside Ogilvie Transportation Center.

“It’s a parking lot in front of us,” a conductor announced to the passengers on one North Line train, eliciting a collective groan from riders.

The Chicago Transit Authority temporarily suspended Purple Line and Purple Line Express service between Evanston and Chicago. Authorities reported “major delays” throughout the early morning on almost all its lines, all due to the weather.

At the city’s two airports, more than 1,500 flights were canceled Sunday, and aviation officials were encouraging Monday travelers to call airlines before arriving while passing out pillows and blankets to those who were stranded.

Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

WEATHER UPDATES GO TO CHICAGO WEATHER CENTER

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