Major Metra, CTA delays during morning commute

Staff report

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

Major highways were closed in Indiana, major delays were reported on nearly every Metra and CTA line and more than 1,500 flights were canceled at the city’s two airports.

As Chicago officials predicted on Sunday, 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, had warned. “If you can stay indoors, please do so.”

Schenkel’s forecast proved painfully accurate this morning.

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

“Conditions remain extremely hazardous on all interstates, U.S. highways and state routes,” the Indiana state police said this morning. “This is a dangerous situation and all are advised to stay home.”

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

The Southern Illinois University basketball team got stuck in a snowstorm in I-57 and spent the night in a church.

In the Chicago area, llinois State Police reported a burst of spinouts and minor accidents as the morning commute began, but no major accidents.

Taking a train was not necessarily the best alternative to icy and snowy 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. Metra was reported as many as 25 delayed or canceled trains on 9 of its 10 lines.

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.

One person, a man, was taken to Swedish Covenant Hospital from the crash, according to hospital spokesman Nick Przybyciel.  Przybyciel said as of 10 a.m. the man, who suffered lacerations, was discharged in “stable” condition.

The Chicago Fire Department initially reported that three people were taken to Swedish Covenant Hospital in good-to-fair condition.

Eleven others complained of pain but refused ambulance transport to a hospital, according to the fire department. Paramedics evaluated about 150 people on the train, according to the fire department.

Other Metra delays included:

– On the Union Pacific West Line, trains left about an hour late because of switching problems at the end of the line, Elburn.

– On the Milwaukee District West Line, a train scheduled to leave Chicago at 5:40 a.m. left late because the train hadn’t yet arrived downtown and signal problems delayed an incoming train on the same line by about 20 minutes.

– On the Burlington Northern Sante Fee line, an outbound train from Chicago, scheduled to depart at 5:55 a.m., won’t operate past Naperville because of subzero weather, according to the agency’s website.

– On the Metra Electric District, a train scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 6:30 a.m. got stuck in Richton Park because of mechanical problems.

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

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