WBEZ | trains http://www.wbez.org/tags/trains Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en That Time Chicago Sent a Trainload of Snow to Florida http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/time-chicago-sent-trainload-snow-florida-114494 <p><p>Chicago loves winter. Talking about it at least. Inevitably, you&rsquo;ll lament the most recent snowfall with your neighbor. Inevitably, a Facebook friend will post a screenshot of Chicago&rsquo;s zero-degree forecast. &nbsp;And, inevitably, a media outlet like us will bring up the Chicago Blizzard of 1967 &mdash; if only to remind everyone that today&rsquo;s bad weather could always get worse.</p><p>But this isn&rsquo;t a story just about that blizzard; it&rsquo;s also about how the media talks about its aftermath. It&rsquo;s been nearly 50 years since the largest single snowfall in Chicago history, and not only are <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/chi-chicagodays-1967blizzard-story-story.html" target="_blank">local news outlets still publishing retrospectives</a>, they&rsquo;re also still hung up on a single, microcosmic detail &mdash; <a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20150109/downtown/history-of-winter-chicago-it-could-be-worse-definitely-was" target="_blank">written in a sentence or two</a> or in a quote like this one, usually below the fold:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;Some of the snow from 1967, there was so much of it, they didn&#39;t know what to do with it,&quot; said Peter Alter, resident historian at the Chicago History Museum. &quot;They put it on train cars, and they shipped it to Florida for kids who had never seen snow.&quot; -<a href="http://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20150109/downtown/history-of-winter-chicago-it-could-be-worse-definitely-was" target="_blank">DNAinfo, January 9, 2015</a></p></blockquote><p>It was a tidbit like this that inspired a question that came all the way from a classroom of fourth and fifth graders in High Point, North Carolina. They had learned about the &lsquo;67 blizzard and, being school kids themselves, they were particularly enamored with the Chicago-to-Florida snow train delivery. So, they asked us for help filling in the blanks:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Was there really a trainful of snow surplus shipped from Chicago to Florida school kids? How did that even happen?!</em></p><p>I&rsquo;ll tell you right now: It happened, all right, and the story&rsquo;s details are worth revisiting. Because when you retrace the making of this Chicago mini-legend, you can see click-bait journalism being written across the front pages of mainstream newspapers &mdash; 40 years before its time.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Not all snow trains lead to Florida</span></p><p>The story of the Chicago Blizzard of 1967 starts on January 26, when it snowed for 29 hours straight. Having been 65 degrees just two days before, the storm took many people off guard. More than two feet of snow covered the region, with reports of drifts up to 10 feet high. Cars were discarded like cigarette butts over expressways. There was no public transportation, no access to grocery stores, no way to get to work. Twenty-three people died in the Chicago area, mostly from heart attacks while shoveling snow.</p><p>It took three weeks for the Department of Streets and Sanitation to plow the city streets. Desperate for places to put the stuff, they dumped it in any vacant lot they could find: Park District land, neighborhood lots, <a href="http://www.trbimg.com/img-563cc845/turbine/chi-110131-snowstorm-1967-pictures-010/1300/1300x731" target="_blank">even the Chicago River</a>.</p><p>Some Chicago rail yards came up with their own solution for snow that built up in their depots. It&rsquo;s kind of bizarre in its simplicity: Shove it on freight trains already heading south. The warmer weather would do the job, melting the stuff in transit.</p><p>&ldquo;They sent it because they wanted to get rid of it,&rdquo; A.W. Pirtle, supervisor of the Illinois Central Railroad&rsquo;s Memphis depot <a href="https://www.newspapers.com/clip/3848614/mt_vernon_registernews/" target="_blank">told the Associated Press</a> (probably rolling his eyes). And in Chicago, the ordeal made front-page news:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="400" scrolling="no" src="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1967/02/11/page/37/article/hundreds-of-freight-cars-used" width="600"></iframe></p><p>Dozens of train lines followed suit, and this solution &mdash; extolled in headlines such as this &mdash; grew into a national story. It was picked up by the Associated Press, and photographs of trains carrying heaps of sooty, Chicago snow from the blizzard appeared in papers around the country as the rail cars made their way to Tennessee, Alabama and Texas.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">A 1,300-mile regift, remembered</span></p><p>The story was even picked up by national television, and eventually reached the ears and eyes of a 13-year-old girl in the town of Fort Myers Beach, Florida.</p><p>We found that girl through the White Pages. Her name is Terri Bell (last name Hodson at the time), and, at age 61, she still lives in Fort Myers Beach.</p><p>She says after hearing the broadcast about trainloads of Chicago snow heading south, she wrote a letter to William Quinn, the president of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, asking him to send her some snow because, as a Floridian, she had never seen any.</p><p>And he did.</p><p>It&rsquo;s just that 13-year-old Terri Hodson hadn&rsquo;t realized that all of the other southbound snow was shipped in uninsulated cars &mdash; the whole point being to <em>melt</em>. But Quinn, possibly sensing a brilliant PR stunt but possibly out of the goodness of his heart, had the snow shipped to Florida in refrigerator cars.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><a href="https://soundcloud.com/curiouscity/that-time-chicago-sent-a-trainload-of-snow-to-florida" target="_blank"><strong>Hear Terri tell her own story of getting Chicago shipped 1,300 miles to Florida</strong></a></p><p>And if the media went bananas over Chicago railroads sending snow south in uninsulated cars, they went banana sundaes when they heard about the special, frozen shipment to school kids in Florida.</p><p>Headlines from Pennsylvania to California read:</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="https://img0.newspapers.com/img/img?id=51235319&amp;width=557&amp;height=1226&amp;crop=3338_6901_824_1847&amp;rotation=0&amp;brightness=0&amp;contrast=0&amp;invert=0&amp;ts=1452895228&amp;h=8ae3bfd79913bdd017c5e1edbec509e4" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/youthsnowanswered.png" title="" /></a></div><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>The Mercury</em>, Pottstown, Pennsylvania</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/floridagirltoget.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><em>Lincoln Journal Star</em>, Lincoln, Nebraska</div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="https://img0.newspapers.com/img/img?id=17862377&amp;width=557&amp;height=1263&amp;crop=46_2385_468_1081&amp;rotation=0&amp;brightness=0&amp;contrast=0&amp;invert=0&amp;ts=1452894834&amp;h=d11eda3334b31dd27ff4730e3090f6a9" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/floridasnowrequest%20california.PNG" style="height: 201px; width: 400px;" title="" /></a></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Independent</em>, Long Beach, California</div></div><p>&nbsp;</p><p>And in Chicago, yet another front page story:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="400" scrolling="no" src="http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1967/02/21/page/1/article/train-heads-south-with-snow-for-girl" width="620"></iframe></p><p>Terri became a local hero and a national celebrity. She appeared on talk shows and was quoted in papers across the country. The town of Fort Myers Beach even held a special ceremony for the occasion, in which a local hardware store gave her a sled that was shipped to them by mistake. (She still has that sled, by the way.)</p><p>On February 27, 1967 &mdash; after almost a week in transit &mdash; the snow came rolling into the Fort Myers train depot, where thousands neighbors, parents, and kids were waiting. Some were skeptical, but a good number of the kids looked forward to playing in the white, fluffy, powdery stuff they&rsquo;d never seen before.</p><p>Except, Terri got something else entirely, after she&rsquo;d cut the ribbon to the train cars and a couple guys used a front-end loader to shovel the snow into the parking lot:</p><blockquote><p>I had expected it to be soft and powdery. You know, like, dripping snowflakes and it would just come pouring out of the car. Unfortunately after a week&rsquo;s ride in a refrigerator car it was no longer soft powdery snow. It was quite icy.</p><p>You could still kind of form it a little bit and do something with it and people were trying to build snowmen and snowballs and make snow angels and do the best they could with it. But, it was still snow and I could say I saw snow.</p></blockquote><p>Nearly 50 years after the event, Terri remembers playing in the snow was not that much fun.</p><p>&quot;It was the fact that I really got it, and all the cool things that happened to me around that,&quot; she says. &quot;Everybody says you&rsquo;ll have a claim to fame once in your life. That was the most exciting thing that happened in my life.&quot;</p><p>And though the snow melted almost immediately in the 80-degree Florida heat that February day in 1967, the short buzz of fame Terri felt has stuck with her ever since.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="https://img0.newspapers.com/img/img?id=36758128&amp;width=557&amp;height=694&amp;crop=1720_873_1676_2128&amp;rotation=0&amp;brightness=0&amp;contrast=0&amp;invert=0&amp;ts=1452895281&amp;h=1e086e25e489fdf1b852dc52b699bf6b" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/chi%20snow%20shipped%20to%20fla.png" style="height: 635px; width: 620px;" title="A photo of Terri on the front page of the Charleston Daily Mail the day after the snow's arrival. " /></a></div><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Vintage virality</span></p><p>The story about the Florida snow train had a lot of heart, but why was it enough to make the era&rsquo;s national media go berzerk?</p><p>Bruce Evensen, director of Depaul University&rsquo;s journalism school, says part of the explanation is that there were few media outlets at the time. Evensen, who&rsquo;s now 64 and was 16 during the blizzard, reminds us 1967 wasn&rsquo;t the age of social media. Cable television was still relatively new, and NPR hadn&rsquo;t even been founded.</p><p>He says the issue wasn&rsquo;t just that there was less &ldquo;news&rdquo;; hardly any of it was &ldquo;second day&rdquo; or feature stories. Basically, in 1967, &ldquo;news&rdquo; was hard news, and the Chicago-Florida snow train story was not only an exception, but an exceptionally popular one. Why?</p><p>&ldquo;A story of what to do with the snow when a city reaches the point where it can&rsquo;t handle snow is an interesting thing,&rdquo; Evensen says. And what made that irony particularly resonate, Evensen says, was Chicago&rsquo;s nickname as the &ldquo;Phoenix City,&rdquo; coined by Chicago Tribune managing editor and later city mayor Joseph Medill after the Great Fire of 1871.</p><p>&ldquo;So the joke &mdash; the parlour game &mdash; was that Chicago was not going to be stopped by the fire. Chicago was not going to be stopped by this paralyzing storm, even though it<em> was</em> stopped for 24, 36, 48 hours,&rdquo; Evensen says. &ldquo;[It] just was another suggestion of the city&rsquo;s sort of ironic muscularity: &lsquo;You want some snow? You can have it!&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>The story&rsquo;s news hook was its irony factor &mdash; a gesture of Midwestern politeness and can-do spirit, a simultaneous high-five and slap in the face while the city dug itself out of a frozen hell. And, considering the story&rsquo;s national virality as a slice-of-life spinoff outside the breaking news world, it&rsquo;s fair to call it a harbinger of a media landscape to come. It was a hashtag before its time.</p><p>Evensen suspects that, &ldquo;properly handled and exploited,&rdquo; the Chicago-Florida snow train story would get even more press if it happened today rather than in 1967. One reason: There are more news outlets and more competition for stories between them. Another reason: The media offers more social and cultural context to news stories than ever before, and coverage continues as long as there&rsquo;s proof of listener interest, Evensen says.</p><p>&ldquo;Even the mainstream media now is much more attentive than ever before to how the story is <em>going</em>,&rdquo; Bevensen says. &ldquo;What kind of visibility is it getting? You can measure this. So I think if they found that that kind of curious, funny story was getting attention initially, it might be boosted even higher.&rdquo;</p><p>So, to the Floridians out there looking for their claim to fame: consider the next northern blizzard your big break.</p><p>And pro tip to Chicago journalists and bloggers: Fact-check the legends. Some are still in the White Pages.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Logan Jaffe is Curious City&#39;s multimedia producer. <a href="http://twitter.com/loganjaffe" target="_blank">Follow her on Twitter</a> for more of these kinds of shenanigans.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Fri, 15 Jan 2016 15:29:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/time-chicago-sent-trainload-snow-florida-114494 StoryCorps Chicago: Photographs Preserve a Bygone World of Railroad http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/storycorps-chicago-photographs-preserve-bygone-world-railroad-114445 <p><p dir="ltr">A few years ago, Dale Wickum retired as an electrician and finally had some time to go through boxes of photos he&rsquo;d taken in the 1970s. Back then, he&rsquo;d been working on a book project, but that project had long since fallen through.</p><p dir="ltr"><img .washington="" alt="" class="image-original_image" dale="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/WICKUM-2-FB1200-019-copy-686x1024.jpg" style="height: 463px; width: 310px; float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;" title="&quot;Grit….Washington 1980&quot; (Dale Wickum)" /><a href="http://followingthetracks.com/">The black-and-white photos he rediscovered</a> were of tramps, men who travelled aboard freight trains, often for years or decades at a time. There were pictures of men like East Coast Charlie, who hadn&rsquo;t slept indoors in forty years, and Poodle Frenchy, who traveled with a pack of dogs.</p><p>Wickum&rsquo;s friend Holly Lukasiewicz joined him in the StoryCorps booth to ask what prompted Wickum to ride the rails and document these travelers. Wickum says it began in 1971, when he hopped his first freight train and it pulled into a station late at night.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.storycorps.org"><em>StoryCorps&rsquo; </em></a>mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to share, record and preserve their stories. These excerpts, edited by WBEZ, present some of our favorites from the current visit, as well as from previous trips.</p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Mon, 11 Jan 2016 15:11:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/storycorps-chicago-photographs-preserve-bygone-world-railroad-114445 Why isn't the U.S. adopting this subway car design? http://www.wbez.org/programs/here-and-now/2015-10-15/why-isnt-us-adopting-subway-car-design-113357 <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/1014_open-gangways-624x428.jpg" title="Toronto has been using “open gangway” trains since 2011. (Sean_Marshall/Flickr)" /></div><p>Around the world, many major cities trying to improve public transit have adopted city rail lines that use open gangways.</p><p>Instead of multiple cars strung together, an open gangway is one long car, allowing passengers to walk the full length of the train without getting out.&nbsp;The design is believed to increase rider capacity of trains and even make late-night riding safer.</p><p>But while open gangways are common in Europe and Asia, the United States has long avoided adoption.&nbsp;Here &amp; Now&rsquo;s Jeremy Hobson speaks with <a href="http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2015/04/06/when-american-transit-agencies-ignore-the-worlds-move-to-open-gangways/" target="_blank">Chicago city planner&nbsp;Yonah Freemark</a>&nbsp;for his take on why.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2015/10/14/open-gangways-subway-design" target="_blank"><em> via Here &amp; Now</em></a></p></p> Wed, 14 Oct 2015 13:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/here-and-now/2015-10-15/why-isnt-us-adopting-subway-car-design-113357 China's need for sustained growth http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2015-08-21/chinas-need-sustained-growth-112705 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/220291966&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p style="margin: 0px 0px 18px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-stretch: inherit; line-height: 22px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><span style="font-size: 22px; background-color: rgb(255, 244, 244);">China&#39;s devaluation practices spook economy</span></p><div style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-stretch: inherit; line-height: 22px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><p>The US stock market registered its worst performance in 18 months this week- driven at least in part by the volatility and recent slump in the Chinese stock market. The Chinese government has tried a host of measures to try to prop up its stock market and manage the devaluation of its currency. Despite the intervention, China&rsquo;s economic growth is slowing. We&rsquo;ll take a look at what that could mean for the global economy with Patrick Chovanec, chief strategist and managing director at Silvercrest Asset Management and an adjunct professor at Columbia University&rsquo;s School of International and Public Affairs.</p><p><strong>Guest:</strong>&nbsp;<em><span id="docs-internal-guid-db682c02-51bd-691b-71bc-879719ac2cb1"><a href="http://twitter.com/prchovanec">Patrick Chovanec </a>is </span>chief strategist and managing director at Silvercrest Asset Management and an adjunct professor at Columbia University&rsquo;s School of International and Public Affairs.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/220292261&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p style="margin: 0px 0px 18px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-stretch: inherit; line-height: 22px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><span style="font-size: 22px; background-color: rgb(255, 244, 244);">&#39;The Iron Ministry&#39; explores China&#39;s railway system</span></p><div style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-stretch: inherit; line-height: 22px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><p>China&rsquo;s train system is the largest in the world, and carried a whopping 1,060 billion passengers in 2013. Unsurprisingly, the railway system is used in a variety of ways, and filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki spent three years trying to film them all. The result was a documentary called &lsquo;The Iron Ministry,&rsquo; which debuts at Facets here in Chicago this weekend. Film contributor Milos Stehlik and Sniadecki, a film professor at Northwestern University, joins us today to discuss his film, and the intricacies of China&rsquo;s vast railways.</p><p><strong>Guests:</strong></p><ul><li>Milos Stehlik is the director of Facets Multimedia and WBEZ&rsquo;s film contributor.</li><li><span id="docs-internal-guid-db682c02-51bf-d2df-332d-3ca0b6dad42d"><a href="http://twitter.com/J.P.Snidaecki">J.P Sniadecki</a> is the director of Iron Ministry.&nbsp;</span></li></ul></div><p>&nbsp;</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/220292544&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p style="margin: 0px 0px 18px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-stretch: inherit; line-height: 22px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><span style="font-size: 22px; background-color: rgb(255, 244, 244);">Weekend Passport: &#39;Doing Business in the Ancient World&#39;</span></p><div style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-stretch: inherit; line-height: 22px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(51, 51, 51);"><p>Each week global citizen Nari Safavi helps listeners plan their international weekend. This week we&rsquo;ll hear about an exhibit at the University of Chicago&rsquo;s Booth School that explores what it was like to do business in the ancient world.</p><p><strong>Guests:</strong></p><ul><li><em><span id="docs-internal-guid-db682c02-51c3-3c0d-0fc5-e0da593e0244">Nari Safavi is one of the founders of Pasfarda Arts and Cultural Exchange. </span></em></li><li><em>Jack Green is the chief curator at the University of Chicago&rsquo;s Oriental Institute.</em></li><li><em>Brittany Hayden is co curator of the exhibit and a PHD candidate in near eastern languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago .</em></li></ul><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 21 Aug 2015 14:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2015-08-21/chinas-need-sustained-growth-112705 Beyond the rattle and clatter: When the CTA 'L' is your neighbor http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/beyond-rattle-and-clatter-when-cta-l-your-neighbor-112173 <p><p>Our questioner Eleni Chappen is a web developer living in Chicago&rsquo;s Ravenswood neighborhood. She got interested in the quirks of living next to the CTA elevated train tracks while riding the Brown Line, where she spotted what she thought might be her dream home: a yellow house with a pool in the backyard located right on a curve along the route.</p><p>&ldquo;I always wondered what goes on in there,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I imagined them never being able to open their windows, because it would be so loud. Or them have to wear earplugs all the time. Or they&rsquo;d be having dinner and the spoons and forks are all shaking.&rdquo;</p><p>So she submitted this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>What&#39;s it like to live in a home that&#39;s directly adjacent to CTA tracks?</em></p><p>We found many people who reported what you&rsquo;d expect: Residents spoke of not being able to open windows and having things rattle throughout the house when a train rumbles by at a clip. But we also learned more surprising details about life near the tracks. One family off the Brown Line says the noise from the CTA has gotten worse, even, since renovations that allow the train to go faster. At the same time, one renter off the Red Line says life has grown quieter with the addition of newer train cars.</p><p>Maybe most surprising of all, everyone we spoke to says they&rsquo;ve adapted to the noise and the shaking the train brings. And there&rsquo;s a kicker. One expert tells us residents (neighbors to the tracks or not) should expect the CTA train lines to eventually get quieter, as the agency updates to newer train models and lines are revamped with noise mitigation in mind.</p><p>Until then, though, we found some folks to talk about what it&rsquo;s like to live with the &quot;L&quot; as your neighbor.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Mary and Floyd</span></p><p><span style="font-size:18px;">Homeowners, Brown Line</span></p><p>When Mary and Floyd bought their yellow house right off a curve on the Brown Line 25 years ago, the fact that it was so close to the &quot;L&quot; didn&rsquo;t faze them. They had always loved the look of the house and figured the rumbling of the &quot;L&quot; would soon become white noise. And it did, for many years. But since the renovations of the Brown Line were completed in 2009, Mary and Floyd say the noise has gotten much, much worse. In fact, they think it&rsquo;s affected their hearing. &ldquo;The train is just so loud,&rdquo; Floyd says. &ldquo;One morning I expect to wake up and it&rsquo;s in our bedroom. That sort of scares me.&rdquo;</p><p>Lately, the frustrations over the noise have been compounded by the fact that their property taxes keep going up, despite the impact of the noise. But this, Mary says, has a very real impact on their property value. Years back she says they put the house on the market for a while. &ldquo;Over 50 percent of the people that saw that it was by the train they wouldn&rsquo;t even come into the see it,&rdquo; Mary says.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MARY%20outside%20WEB.jpg" style="height: 427px; width: 320px; float: right;" title="Mary and Floyd have owned a yellow house off the curve of a Brown Line train for the last 25 years. Mary says she has a love-hate relationship with the train. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe) " /></div><p>We called Landon Harper, a broker with @Properties who has been selling real estate next to the &quot;L&quot; for more than a decade, and asked him if it&rsquo;s harder to sell when the noise of the &quot;L&quot; is factor. He says there is a definite discount for homes that abut the train versus those a few blocks away. But the market is strong, he says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s all about finding the right buyer.&rdquo;</p><p>While Mary is trying to dispute her taxes, neither she nor Floyd has ever logged an official complaint with the Chicago Transit Authority. And, in fact, few people do. CTA says the agency only received seven complaints in 2014. And that is half the number from the previous year.</p><p>Mary and Floyd, semi-retired and in their mid-60s, admit there are strange quirks about living so close to the tracks. Like when the vibrations of the train cause her china to move around inside her cabinet. Or when blobs of tar and large bolts and pins come flying off the tracks. There have been two fires on the tracks from sparks, Mary says. And in the parking lot under the tracks people come and park their cars to do, well, you know what. &ldquo;The workers &hellip; they called this Lovers Lane,&rdquo; Mary quips.</p><p>Despite all her gripes, there are also charming and funny things about living next to the &quot;L,&quot;&nbsp;says Mary, who asked we just use her first name. Mary has a pool out back where she swims all summer long. Frequently her friends and neighbors &mdash; or the men who moved her couch &mdash; tell her they see her out swimming. &ldquo;I guess everyone on the train sees me swimming,&rdquo; she chuckles.</p><p>Mary says she has a love-hate relationship with the train. And she wrestles with it every day. Is it worth it? When she looks at her surging tax bill and the train comes screeching around the corner, it&rsquo;s hard to see the upside. But when she hears the jingle of the <a href="http://www.transitchicago.com/holidaytrain/#media" target="_blank">Christmas train</a> as it barrels down the track, or sits with a glass of wine at dusk and watches the glowing train go by, she feels connected to her city.</p><p>&ldquo;You see these people and you think, there is a whole world out there,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;There is a whole world of the city: museums, bars, restaurants, and these people are going and coming and there you are, watching it all.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Daphne Karagianis, 29</span></p><p><span style="font-size:18px;">Renter, Green Line</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Curious%20City%20Daphne%20selects-1%20WEB.jpg" style="height: 401px; width: 600px;" title="Daphne Karagianis lived in an apartment next to the Green Line for two years. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee) " /></p><p>The first night Daphne Karagianis, 29, spent in her apartment, an arm&rsquo;s reach from the Green Line off Kedzie and Lake, she almost cried. &ldquo;It felt like the train was inside the apartment. It felt like the place was falling down,&rdquo; she says. Daphne&rsquo;s apartment was so close to the train stop that she could hear the announcements from inside. (The most disconcerting, she says, was when the stress calls came through for someone needing assistance on the platform.) &nbsp;Regardless of all that, however, it took only about a month for her to get used to the sound.</p><p>What she never got used to, however, was the feeling of living in a fish bowl. If she wanted to open the curtains, it meant CTA riders were staring into her living room. &ldquo;When I went on the train line I could see inside our house, the couch and the cat,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Despite the fact that the train was so close, &ldquo;it felt like you could reach out and touch it.&rdquo; Daphne says she never made a connection to a stranger, though she did ask her friends to wave as they pulled into the station on their way hang out at her place.</p><p>Daphne lived in the apartment for two years until this spring, when she moved to Logan Square. She said her move had nothing to do with the train, and she&rsquo;d even consider renting near one again &mdash; though she would never <em>buy </em>a place so close to the tracks.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Collin Ashmead-Bobbitt, 34</span></p><p><span style="font-size:18px;">Red Line, Brown Line, Purple Line</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Bobbit1 (3) WEB.jpg" style="height: 400px; width: 600px;" title="Collin Ashmead-Bobbitt pays $500 a month in rent, but his apartment backs up to the Red, Brown and Purple CTA lines. (WBEZ/Jesse Dukes)" /></p><p>Recently, WBEZ engineer Collin Ashmead-Bobbitt, 34, got a text message from his buddy. &ldquo;You doing laundry?&rdquo; it said. Collin was confused. &ldquo;How do you know? Are you here?&rdquo; he responded. &ldquo;Nope. Headed downtown on the Red Line and saw you go outside with your laundry basket.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s just one of the many quirks about living in an apartment next to the train tracks. Others include stacking his books vertically to prevent them from getting jostled and falling off the shelf, to hanging pictures with four to five nails per frame. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ve gone through a lot of wine glasses,&rdquo; he adds. Collin, an audio engineer and video editor, has lived in his Lincoln Park West apartment, a converted cottage house, for more than four years. At $500 a month the place is a steal. But it also backs up to three train lines: the Red Line, Brown Line and Purple Line.</p><p>&ldquo;When there is two southbound trains and an immediate follower and two northbound trains and an immediate follower, the apartment kind of rumbles,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Despite the constant noise and vibrations, Collin says he&rsquo;s confident it&rsquo;s not a health risk for his hearing.</p><p>&ldquo;My ears and eyes are my life and I would not live in a situation where I thought it would be damaging to both those senses,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;As an audio engineer and a film editor I rely heavily on them.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s been more than four years since he moved into the place. Even he admits the first few weeks were an adjustment period. &ldquo;I considered buying earmuffs,&rdquo; he says. But soon, the sounds of the train became such white noise that life seemed off kilter when they weren&rsquo;t around. When he went to visit his mom in a suburban neighborhood in upstate New York, &ldquo;all I heard was crickets,&rdquo; Collins says. &ldquo;It really freaked me out that there was no trains and no sirens. The soundscapes of the city were so far away.&rdquo;</p><p>Even Collin&rsquo;s cat, Mr. Venkman, likes watching the train from the window. &ldquo;He gets excited when it comes,&rdquo; Collin says.</p><p>And when it doesn&rsquo;t come? Well, that&rsquo;s even worse in a certain way.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s the lifeline of the city,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;And when you don&rsquo;t hear it you definitely know something&rsquo;s up and you should turn on the radio.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ELENI%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 240px; width: 320px;" title="Question-asker Eleni Chappen, left, says the yellow house owned by Mary, right, has been her dream home since she first saw it riding the CTA's Brown Line. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe)" /><span style="font-size:24px;">Our Questioner, Eleni Chappen</span></p><p>When we called Eleni Chappen, 27, to ask her more about why she posed this question to Curious City, we did not expect that she was actually now sort of living it.</p><p>Ironically, since asking this question she&rsquo;s moved jobs and works in Ravenswood in an office sandwiched between the Metra and the Brown Line. And she&rsquo;s realized something: &ldquo;After a while, you do kind of ignore it.&rdquo;</p><p>But that still didn&rsquo;t really answer the heart of her question: If one could adapt, was living next to the &quot;L&quot;&nbsp;a smart investment? Could it be a best-kept secret of Chicago real estate?</p><p>&ldquo;Maybe I am scheming secretly to buy a house next to the tracks,&rdquo; she says. &quot;Is it less than a normal house?&rdquo;</p><p><em>Meribah Knight is a freelance journalist in Chicago and reports for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="http://www.meribahknight.com/" target="_blank">meribahknight.com</a>&nbsp;and on Twitter at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/meribah" target="_blank">@meribah</a>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 10 Jun 2015 13:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/beyond-rattle-and-clatter-when-cta-l-your-neighbor-112173 After the accident: Metra and pedestrian fatalities http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/170234239%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-Jvys6&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Frequent commuters are all too familiar with the pangs of delays: the groans induced by announcements made over a train intercom, or the confusion created when train or bus operators suggest alternative routes, thanks (or no thanks) to weather, mechanical failures, or backups.</p><p>Chicago-area Metra riders are no strangers to these feelings, but often these delays are brought on by another, more heart-dropping reason: pedestrian accidents and fatalities. It&rsquo;s not uncommon for up to 1,300 Metra riders to be held on a train for more than an hour while investigators gather at the scene to determine what happened.</p><p dir="ltr">And while many wonder why so many of these accidents happen, or how they can be stopped, a Curious Citizen (who chose to remain anonymous) had us consider this question:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>How can a thorough investigation of Metra fatalities be performed when trains are up and running 90 minutes after a fatality?</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s a bit of a loaded question, of course, as our questioner is basically asking whether a 90-minute timeframe is sufficient to gather evidence.</p><p>From the first moment we spoke with the questioner, we knew this would be sensitive topic, for sure, but experts did make themselves available to explain how pedestrian death investigations work, and they were also willing to address the &ldquo;90 minutes&rdquo; figure directly. And the question&rsquo;s important, too. The issue of pedestrian fatalities by train is regularly <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-metra-suicides-met-20140825-story.html" target="_blank">in the Chicago-area news</a>. Also, anyone involved &mdash; a victim&#39;s family,&nbsp;commuters on the train, taxpayers in Illinois &mdash; deserves to know exactly what&rsquo;s going on outside that train once tragedy strikes.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The extent of the problem</span></p><p>Pedestrian fatalities by Metra trains, or any type of train, for that matter, are not new phenomena. Train deaths, both intentional and accidental, have been an issue for rail officials across the world. <a href="http://gazebonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ian_savage_438_manuscript.pdf" target="_blank">But as Northwestern University researcher Ian Savage found out</a>, these incidents are happening in Illinois more than any other place in the United States.</p><p>According to Savage, one of the main reasons is Chicago&rsquo;s position as a national rail hub.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a combination of the number of trains and the geography,&rdquo; Savage said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re fairly flat around here, and if you go out east, you&rsquo;ll find many more hills. Because trains [there] can&rsquo;t get up steep grades, you have to level this out by digging cuts, you make embankments, so you end up with a lot more natural grade separation. And here in Chicago, we have little natural grade separation.&rdquo;</p><p>Savage looked at data from the Illinois Commerce Commission from 2004 to 2012, and accounted for 338 pedestrian deaths by train within the six-county Chicago area. (Notably, Savage&rsquo;s research did not include the Chicago Transit Authority&rsquo;s elevated trains). Put another way, the area saw one pedestrian death by train every 10 days. Approximately 47 percent of the incidents were suicides.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20mockup%203%20final_2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20graphic%20new%20stats2.png" title="*Data from Chicago metropolitan region, 2004-2012. Note: Does not include CTA data. Non-motorized persons include pedestrians and bike-riders. Source: Ian Savage, Northwestern University " /></div></div><p>According to Savage, these fatalities happen for a variety of reasons. When it comes to accidents, many times people don&rsquo;t understand how dangerous trains really are.</p><p>&ldquo;In some cases, crossings are designed in a way that good people are lead into making bad decisions. And I think that perceptions of speed are very difficult,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;d never think about jaywalking across an interstate because there are cars every few seconds. But there are five, 10 [minutes], half an hour where there&rsquo;s no activity on train tracks. So you can always get led into this cognitive assumption that nothing&rsquo;s coming, when something is.&rdquo;</p><p>And while the complexity of suicide makes it difficult to understand the reasoning behind individual deaths, Savage said the frequency and high number of occurrences is likely connected to the availability of trains around Chicago. Through his research, Savage stumbled on a study from Children&rsquo;s Memorial Hospital that looked at methods of suicide. They found that the use of trains in the Chicago area was more than four times the national average.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Metra-related investigations</span></p><p>Beyond the magnitude of these fatalities, Metra faces another predicament, one that&rsquo;s different from those of state or city agencies: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZrzuzWv2wY" target="_blank">Metra prides itself on its timeliness</a> and its ability to get commuters home on time. Its slogan is &ldquo;The way to really fly,&rdquo; and their signs read phrases such as &ldquo;We&rsquo;re on time, are you?&rdquo;</p><p>So when tragedy strikes, not only do Metra officials have to worry about the victim of the incident, but the thousands of passengers sitting on the train. In our question-asker&rsquo;s case, she read that trains were up and running 90 minutes after her friend was struck. (Metra officials say delays that day &mdash; including residual delays for other trains on that line &mdash; ranged anywhere between 30 and 110 minutes.)</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20photo%201%20LC.jpg" title="Metra signs advertise the agency's ability to arrive places on time, without delay. (WBEZ/Lauren Chooljian)" /></div></div><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a process in place, a lot of times there&rsquo;s a lot of different factors that are involved in that incident which may extend that investigation, or there may be a train strike where we hit a pedestrian, and that person ends up being fine,&rdquo; said Hilary Konczal, director of Safety at Metra. &ldquo;I mean, we&rsquo;ve hit people and we&rsquo;ve broken a leg or an arm, and we were up and moving in 20 minutes, so it depends on the situation.&rdquo;</p><p>Konczal said every investigation begins the same way: A dispatcher is immediately notified of anything that happens on Metra railroads or that involves a Metra train. That dispatcher then notifies a control center, which reaches out to the municipality where the incident occurred.</p><p>&ldquo;Normally we get the call first,&rdquo; said Des Plaines Police Chief William Kushner. &ldquo;And we&rsquo;ll get it either from people waiting for the train, or someone driving past. And they&rsquo;ll call that someone was struck by a train or someone just jumped in front of a train.&rdquo;</p><p>The local municipality usually arrives on the scene first because of their close proximity. They&rsquo;ll secure the scene, meet with the train crew, and begin to gather witness testimony. Metra also has its own police force. Its officers do their best to get to the scene ASAP, but it could take some time, as the six-county service area is about the size of Connecticut. Once both departments are on scene, one will take the lead.</p><p><iframe align="middle" frameborder="0" height="420" scrolling="no" src="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/metramap.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em>Metra rail lines cover six counties and more than 110 municipalities. The service area is about the size of the state of Connecticut, which means travel times for investigators and other responders can be sizable.</em></span></p><p>&ldquo;Usually, if Metra police investigate the incident, we can do it a little quicker. We have evidence technicians on scene 24 hours [per day], and a lot of times local municipality doesn&#39;t have that. They have to call them in, so that may add time to investigation,&rdquo; Konczal said.</p><p>Konczal said his staff constantly network with the over 110 municipalities that Metra travels through, so when an incident happens &ldquo;we have a rapport with them, so we can get traffic moving as soon as possible.&rdquo;</p><p>But depending on the type of accident, and how long it takes to gather all the correct people together, investigations can still take a while. Konczal said if Metra strikes a vehicle, federal regulations require that signals be tested, for example.</p><p>In a fatality situation, officials have to report information to the ICC and the Federal Railroad Administration. Almost all Metra trains have cameras on them now, as do some grade crossings, so film has to be reviewed to determine what happened, and to assess whether it was an intentional death or not. They also have to wait for a coroner to arrive, as he or she has to respectfully remove the remains.</p><p>The Metra Police Department was recently assessed by <a href="http://www.hillardheintze.com/books/metrapolicedept_01_23_14/" target="_blank">Hillard Heintze</a>, an independent council of retired police chiefs. While the group <a href="http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140122/news/701229709/" target="_blank">found many issues with the department overall</a> (e.g., unclear mission, ineffective or nonexistent policies and procedures, staffing issues, etc.) the report did not address how Metra conducts fatality investigations.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/metra%20investigation%20full.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Metra officials investigate a commuter train accident in 2004 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)" /></p><p>Metra officials say there&rsquo;s no minimum or maximum amount of time that they try and meet for each investigation. Other police departments operate this way as well.</p><p>&ldquo;If there&rsquo;s a fatality, there are no minimums,&rdquo; said Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police Department. &ldquo;The main thing is to get the victims, whether they&rsquo;re dead or hurt. That&rsquo;s the priority.&rdquo;</p><p>Bond said each investigation varies tremendously, depending on the incident: It could be hours, or it could be one hour.</p><p>But what doesn&rsquo;t change per incident, according to Metra officials and police, is the difficulty of dealing with these fatalities, both for him and his staff.</p><p>Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall said his department, like many others around the state, provides mental health services for any officer that responds to traumatic events. Naperville recently dealt with two suicides by train.</p><p>Konczal added that Metra staff take the issue of pedestrian deaths personally. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re people. They may be your brother, my sister, your friend, it&rsquo;s just a shame,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We have employees that go out there. We have the engineer that&rsquo;s traumatized, and the family of the deceased. ... I mean, it&rsquo;s real, and it gets very personal, and at times it gets frustrating.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re constantly looking at ways to educate the public. We&rsquo;re looking at our numbers, the day of the week incidents occur - and it gets frustrating trying to identify how to reduce these risks, without trying to put up some sort of virtual fence. It&rsquo;s just very hard.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Waiting in the wings</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/steven%20vance%20bartlett%20station.jpg" title="Signage at Metra's Bartlett station on the Milwaukee District/West Line route indicates safety precautions for pedestrians crossing the tracks. (Flickr/Steven Vance)" /></p><p>Metra, as well as local law enforcement agencies, suggest that some investigations can take far less than the 90-minute figure that started our look into train-related pedestrian deaths. According to Joe Schwieterman, transportation professor at DePaul University (and Metra rider for 23 years), delays of any kind can be difficult to bear.</p><p>&ldquo;You feel the tension on board right away, people start making phone calls, and after five or ten minutes, you know, you start to wonder, &lsquo;Is this gonna be a nightmare?&rsquo; So that speculation starts,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>According to Schweiterman, everyone in the region has been startled by how a fairly small commuter rail system (in the national sense) has such a regular pattern of hitting people. And a lot of it, he said, isn&rsquo;t on Metra.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a whole series of issues, like willful deaths, and of course just a preponderance of freight trains which makes these crossings very difficult, and even just people dying on the tracks who, you know - drug use along railway tracks - there&rsquo;s a long history of a place where deviants often go.&rdquo;</p><p>But when it comes to whether these investigations are long enough or comprehensive enough, Schwieterman said anything longer than the current delays wouldn&rsquo;t be practical.</p><p>&ldquo;My view is that there&rsquo;s rarely a complex investigation needed,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;When somebody gets hit, the reason that person got hit is important from a data standpoint &mdash; and I mean, of course, for the family it&rsquo;s an absolute travesty &mdash; but from an investigation standpoint we need to know why people are getting hit and how we can fix the problems.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;But it&rsquo;s not like a crime scene, where there&rsquo;s an assailant out there who we have to find, and he may have left a clue behind.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>If you or someone you know exhibits any of the <a href="http://reportingonsuicide.org/warning-signs-of-suicide/" target="_blank">warning signs of suicide</a>, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)</strong></p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ Reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/triciabobeda"> </a><a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p></p> Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875 Meet the CTA's super-friendly conductor http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/meet-ctas-super-friendly-conductor-110466 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/157991456&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false; show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&rsquo;s note: The podcast episode available above includes two stories. The first looks at <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/passing-through-chicagos-union-station-amish-transit-hub-110453" target="_blank">why Chicago is a transit hub for the Amish</a>. The profile of CTA conductor Michael Powell begins at 7 minutes, 36 seconds.</em></p><p>The idea for Caroline Eichler&rsquo;s Curious City question first came to her in 2011, shortly after she had finished college and first arrived in Chicago. She didn&rsquo;t know anyone except her roommates and co-workers. &ldquo;And this is the first city I&rsquo;ve ever lived in, too,&rdquo; she says. It&rsquo;s little wonder that she felt &mdash; by her own admission &mdash; &ldquo;pretty terrified and overwhelmed.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>One of the first people Caroline came to recognize in the city was the voice of a certain chatty train conductor during her commute on the CTA&rsquo;s Red Line from Rogers Park to the Jackson stop downtown. She remembers the conductor reminding passengers to grab their umbrellas if it was raining, or he&rsquo;d jokingly advise passengers to take their children with them when they left the train. &ldquo;One time he said &lsquo;May the force be with you.&rsquo; That really cracked me up,&rdquo; she says. Since Caroline only knew a handful of people in the city, even the more reserved announcements such as &ldquo;I hope you&rsquo;re having a great day!&rdquo; were really nice, she says.</p><p>All of this interest in a comforting voice led Caroline to send us this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Who is the super-friendly train conductor on the Red Line?</em></p><p>While tracking down an answer, we learned that the man behind the kind words used the daily commute to comfort himself, too.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&lsquo;I just started talking&rsquo;</span></p><p>The conductor is Michael Powell, who began working for the CTA in 1978. Getting a job with the CTA was &ldquo;like a dream come true,&rdquo; Powell says. He&rsquo;s always loved trains, and he even had toy trains when he was growing up.</p><p>Talking over the train&rsquo;s PA system came naturally to Powell. &ldquo;I just started talking,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s spur of the moment, I really don&rsquo;t rehearse them. If it feels like I can say something silly or something half-serious, I&rsquo;ll say it.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell is not shy about sharing difficulties he had early in life. The oldest of four children, Powell says his mother &ldquo;had a rough time raising four children, not having a college degree or any education formally.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I could never make her happy,&rdquo; Powell remembers. &ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t like myself because I didn&rsquo;t get any compliments.&rdquo; Eventually Powell went to counseling. &ldquo;I just had to get over my fear or rejection, I think that&rsquo;s everybody&rsquo;s problem,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;When I started getting attention from the train it was like: Hey, I&rsquo;m getting the love or the attention that I didn&rsquo;t have growing up.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell&rsquo;s philosophy about relating to the passengers is straightforward. &ldquo;I just try to make everybody feel good,&rdquo; he says. Knowing people aren&rsquo;t always happy to be on their way to work, he would sometimes give a morning pep talk. &ldquo;Some people feel like they&rsquo;re down in the dumps. They&rsquo;re like &lsquo;Wow-wee, I had to come to work today.&rsquo; And I sometimes say, Yeah, you know, it would be nice to stay home today, but we have to work. What&rsquo;s for dinner tonight? Make sure you have everything with you! Just, you know, look on the bright side of life,&rdquo; he says.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MichaelPowell%20for%20WEB.jpg" title="Michael Powell, a CTA conductor for 36 years, was known by commuters for his cheerful quips. (Photo courtesy Katie Klocksin)" /></p><p>Over the years Powell has made an impact on his passengers, and he&rsquo;s been written about many times. When I first introduce him to Caroline, he presents a large binder full of his press clippings, print-outs of mostly-positive comment threads on articles featuring him, cards passengers had sent him, and comments people sent to the CTA. Caroline says she&rsquo;s impressed with how much Michael&rsquo;s comments resonated with people &mdash; enough that many people actually wrote to the CTA with positive feedback.</p><p>&ldquo;He brings out a good side of Chicago,&rdquo; she says.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">End of an era</span></p><p>Fans of Powell and his conversational style as a train conductor may be disappointed to learn that he retired at the end of 2013. He still spends time with a group of friends he calls &ldquo;train club.&rdquo; They get together once a week for breakfast, and they also run model trains and watch train movies together. Michael also became a grandfather this May. He misses seeing his passengers every day, &ldquo;yet it&rsquo;s nice to be a grandfather. It&rsquo;s nice to spend more time at home,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Caroline asked Powell if he had a fantasy train he&rsquo;d like to drive. &nbsp;&ldquo;Not really,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I feel like I&rsquo;ve done enough driving in my life. Let someone else do the driving.&rdquo;</p><p>As their time together ends, Caroline tells him: &ldquo;The Red Line community of train riders will miss you.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ll miss them too,&rdquo; he replies. &ldquo;I had fun.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Caroline%20Re-Touch%20for%20WEB.jpg" style="float: left; height: 242px; width: 200px;" title="Caroline Eichler, who asked about the super-friendly Red Line conductor. (Photo courtesy Caroline Eichler)" /><span style="font-size:22px;">Our question comes from: Caroline Eichler</span></p><p>Caroline Eichler moved to Chicago in 2011, after graduating from Kenyon College. She quickly noticed Michael Powell&rsquo;s distinctive style on the Red Line&rsquo;s train announcements.</p><p>&ldquo;He was one of the first people in city I&rsquo;d recognize,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t even see him, I would just would know he was there from his voice.&rdquo;</p><p>Powell was a topic of conversation among her roommates as well. They would text each other when they caught Powell&rsquo;s train on their morning or evening commutes. &ldquo;I think I&rsquo;m the most excited about it, but we&rsquo;re all in on it together,&rdquo; Caroline says.</p><p>After three years, Caroline is more settled in the city; she&rsquo;s involved in several musical endeavors, including working as the Music Librarian for the <a href="http://cso.org/Institute/CivicOrchestra/Default.aspx" target="_blank">Civic Orchestra of Chicago</a>. She&rsquo;s also a violinist, and she sings with the vocal ensemble <a href="http://www.lacaccina.com/" target="_blank">La Caccina</a>.</p><p><em>A <a href="http://chirpradio.org/podcasts/person-of-interest-michael-powell" target="_blank">version of this story </a>originally aired on ChirpRadio.org. Katie Klocksin is a freelance radio producer. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieKlocksin" target="_blank">@KatieKlocksin</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 09 Jul 2014 12:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/meet-ctas-super-friendly-conductor-110466 Final phase of Ventra rollout suspended, developer apologizes http://www.wbez.org/news/final-phase-ventra-rollout-suspended-developer-apologizes-109094 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Ventra.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Chicago commuters will be able to hold on to those old Chicago Cards and magnetic strip cards for a little while longer. Chicago Transit Authority officials announced the the final phase of the new <a href="http://ventrachicago.com/">Ventra </a>system&rsquo;s rollout will be suspended until a few of its problems are fixed. Chicago Cards and Chicago Card Plus were supposed to be phased out by November 15.</p><p dir="ltr">CTA President Forrest Claypool also said the agency won&rsquo;t pay the developer, Cubic Transportation Systems, any of the $454 million, 12-year contract, until the company meets three criterion: customer service wait times must be five minutes or less, processing times for the tap-and-go function of a Ventra card must be under two and a half seconds--99 percent of the time--and all readers and vending machines must be operational 99 percent of the time.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The bottom line is that too many of our customers are confused and frustrated and that&rsquo;s our fault,&rdquo; Claypool told members of the City Club at a luncheon Tuesday.</p><p dir="ltr">Cubic&rsquo;s head of North American operations, Richard Wunderle, was on hand to answer some questions as well.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;This transition period wasn&rsquo;t our shining light, and for that I want to apologize to the riders of CTA,&rdquo; said Wunderle. &ldquo;It wasn&rsquo;t our best effort but it will get better, so I apologize for that.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Cubic isn&rsquo;t new to the public transit game: They&rsquo;ve got 400 fare-collection projects in operation across the world, including systems in Sydney, London and Washington, D.C. But the Ventra system marks the first time the company&rsquo;s tackled an open-fare, contactless card system; and officials say it&rsquo;s the first of its kind in North America.</p><p dir="ltr">Wunderle said Cubic engineers are already at work on a number of fixes to get things up to speed.</p><p dir="ltr">One issue that&rsquo;s drawn many complaints from CTA riders is being charged for multiple taps of their Ventra card at the turnstile. Officials say customers would tap their card, and after not immediately seeing a green &ldquo;Go&rdquo; signal, they&rsquo;d tap multiple times or move to a different lane. As of Tuesday, Cubic said they added a new &ldquo;processing&rdquo; screen to show riders the system is working before it lets them through. Engineers will also be upgrading the Ventra software over the weekend to try and bring processing times down on card readers to two-and-a-half seconds or less. CTA officials said that&rsquo;s happening 95 percent of the time--but the other 5 percent of the time, processing times varied from three to 10 seconds, sometimes more.</p><p dir="ltr">Claypool said the issue that&rsquo;s upset him the most is the long wait times for callers trying to reach a customer service agent, calling it a &ldquo;self-inflicted wound.&rdquo; The CTA chief said on one day last month, the center was overwhelmed with 20,000 calls. Some customers couldn&rsquo;t get through to an agent at all, while others waited, and waited - in some cases, for more than 30 minutes. Cubic has hired more customer service agents since then, and plans to expand further.</p><p dir="ltr">No timeline has been set for when the Ventra rollout will continue. Wunderle said he can&rsquo;t really give a &ldquo;best guess&rdquo; how long it will take the company to address the CTA&rsquo;s three benchmarks, only estimating &ldquo;weeks&rdquo; when pressed by a reporter.</p><p dir="ltr">Other interesting Ventra facts:</p><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">The entire Ventra contract lasts 12 years: The two years allotted for engineering the system are almost up. The next 10 years of the contract will be for the service.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">Cubic paid $92 million up front toward the transition: installing card readers, vending machines, call center operations, etc.</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">CTA lawyers will be looking into how many fares they&rsquo;ve missed because of bus drivers waving people through when there seemed to be problems with the Ventra card</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">50 percent of CTA riders are now using Ventra cards</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">Card readers will now display a &ldquo;low balance&rdquo; screen that lets customers know their Ventra card balance is under $10</p></li></ul><p dir="ltr"><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 06 Nov 2013 13:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/final-phase-ventra-rollout-suspended-developer-apologizes-109094 From the archives: LaHood says 'no stopping' high speed rail http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/archives-lahood-says-no-stopping-high-speed-rail-105724 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/high%20speed%20rail%20quinn%20lahood%20AP%20small.jpg" style="height: 460px; width: 620px;" title="Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, left, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, on a high speed rail test run in October of 2012. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast, file)" /></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F77461272&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that he would <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/transportation-secretary-ray-lahood-leave-administration-105193">leave his post in the Obama administration</a> earlier this week. &quot;I have had a good run,&rdquo; the former Illinois Congressman and Peoria native told the Associated Press. &ldquo;I&#39;m one of these people who believe that you should go out while they&#39;re applauding.&rdquo;</p><p>During his tenure in Washington, LaHood struggled with Congress to pass funding for major infrastructure projects, and eventually compromised with them on a two-year plan, dubbed <a href="http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/map21/">MAP 21</a>, that gave states more flexibility in spending federal dollars. He also brought greater attention to hazards like <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ray-lahood/distracted-driving-a-dead_b_555810.html">distracted driving</a>, and tried to put <a href="http://www.wired.com/autopia/2010/03/lahood-policy-statement/">pedestrians and cyclists on equal footing with drivers</a>, earning him accolades from many alternative transportation advocates.</p><p>But one of LaHood&rsquo;s biggest efforts was his promotion of high speed rail. At an urban policy forum held in Chicago in December, LaHood told the audience that &ldquo;every generation does something big for the next generation,&rdquo; and that high speed rail would be our generation&rsquo;s gift to the next.</p><p>In <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/29/ray-lahood-interview-high-speed-rail_n_2576995.html">an exit interview with the <em>Huffington Post</em></a>, LaHood admitted that he felt behind on this quest, but insisted that he and his administration had still &ldquo;come a long way.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;As long as President Obama is in the White House, whoever sits in this chair will have high-speed rail as one of their top priorities,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>You can take a closer listen to LaHood&rsquo;s earlier remarks on high speed rail &ndash; and his insistence at its inevitability &ndash; in the audio above.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range">Dynamic Range</a></em>&nbsp;<em>showcases hidden gems unearthed from </em><em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/chicago-amplified/a-conversation-with-u-s"><em>Chicago Amplified&rsquo;s</em></a></em><em> vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Ray LaHood spoke at an event presented at the UIC Urban Forum in December of 2012. He was interviewed by Steve Schlickman, Executive Director of the UIC Urban Transportation Center. Click</em>&nbsp;<em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/chicago-amplified/a-conversation-with-u-s">here</a>&nbsp;to hear the event in its entirety.</em></p></p> Mon, 25 Feb 2013 10:12:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/archives-lahood-says-no-stopping-high-speed-rail-105724 From the archives: LaHood says 'no stopping' high speed rail http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/archives-lahood-says-no-stopping-high-speed-rail-105308 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/high%20speed%20rail%20quinn%20lahood%20AP%20small.jpg" style="height: 460px; width: 620px;" title="Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, left, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, on a high speed rail test run in October of 2012. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast, file)" /></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F77461272&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that he would <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/transportation-secretary-ray-lahood-leave-administration-105193">leave his post in the Obama administration</a> earlier this week. &quot;I have had a good run,&rdquo; the former Illinois Congressman and Peoria native told the Associated Press. &ldquo;I&#39;m one of these people who believe that you should go out while they&#39;re applauding.&rdquo;</p><p>During his tenure in Washington, LaHood struggled with Congress to pass funding for major infrastructure projects, and eventually compromised with them on a two-year plan, dubbed <a href="http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/map21/">MAP 21</a>, that gave states more flexibility in spending federal dollars. He also brought greater attention to hazards like <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ray-lahood/distracted-driving-a-dead_b_555810.html">distracted driving</a>, and tried to put <a href="http://www.wired.com/autopia/2010/03/lahood-policy-statement/">pedestrians and cyclists on equal footing with drivers</a>, earning him accolades from many alternative transportation advocates.</p><p>But one of LaHood&rsquo;s biggest efforts was his promotion of high speed rail. At an urban policy forum held in Chicago in December, LaHood told the audience that &ldquo;every generation does something big for the next generation,&rdquo; and that high speed rail would be our generation&rsquo;s gift to the next.</p><p>In <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/29/ray-lahood-interview-high-speed-rail_n_2576995.html">an exit interview with the <em>Huffington Post</em></a>, LaHood admitted that he felt behind on this quest, but insisted that he and his administration had still &ldquo;come a long way.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;As long as President Obama is in the White House, whoever sits in this chair will have high-speed rail as one of their top priorities,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>You can take a closer listen to LaHood&rsquo;s earlier remarks on high speed rail &ndash; and his insistence at its inevitability &ndash; in the audio above.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range">Dynamic Range</a></em>&nbsp;<em>showcases hidden gems unearthed from </em><em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/chicago-amplified/a-conversation-with-u-s"><em>Chicago Amplified&rsquo;s</em></a></em><em> vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Ray LaHood spoke at an event presented at the UIC Urban Forum in December of 2012. He was interviewed by Steve Schlickman, Executive Director of the UIC Urban Transportation Center. Click</em>&nbsp;<em><a href="https://soundcloud.com/chicago-amplified/a-conversation-with-u-s">here</a>&nbsp;to hear the event in its entirety.</em></p></p> Sat, 02 Feb 2013 08:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/archives-lahood-says-no-stopping-high-speed-rail-105308