Passenger praises Metra's handling of storm delay

June 22, 2011

Tuesday night's storms wreaked much havoc on the Chicago area. At least 280,000 ComEd customers lost power, the CTA's Yellow Line couldn't operate this morning and 300 flights were cancelled at O'Hare. The thing that stood out most to me, though, was that a Metra train sat on the tracks for 5 hours before returning to downtown Chicago around 2 A.M.

In light of the public transit issues involved in the 2011 blizzard, I wondered how Metra handled the situation.

With a little help from Twitter, I found Matt Johnson, one of 190 commuters on the Union Pacific Northwest line train. Johnson actually painted a rosy picture of his time stuck at the Irving Park stop.

The 28 year old Algonquin resident and a few colleagues were headed to the Crystal Lake area after a day of business meetings in Chicago. After what seemed like a longer than usual stop at Irving Park, the conductor announced that due to weather the main office wouldn't allow the train to proceed.

"Fortunately for us we had our own wifi thing, so we were just on our computers," Johnson said. He says it was dark enought outside that they couldn't really tell if the storm was bad or not, but "I'm looking at all my Facebook status updates and my friends are saying they're in their basements because the tornado was coming."

Johnson credits the train's conductor with helping to keep calm by walking through the car and chatting with passengers. He estimates that 95% of people were using their phones to pass the time. Frequent apologies and periodic updates also kept fear at bay.

After the storm passed the train seemed unable to proceed due to downed trees on the tracks ahead. Johnson says the conductors opened the train doors and allowed passengers to walk around the station platform about an hour-and-a-half into the delay. He and a colleague walked to a nearby Walgreens for food and water.

Johnson's epic evening ended when he got a friend to pick him up from the Irving Park station and drive him home. He said around 15 to 20 others seemed to make similar arrangements. In total the delay was three-and-a-half hours rather than the five hours others endured.

WBEZ's Meghan Power assisted with reporting this story.

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