Metra ‘attacking’ hot-car problem

Metra trains will run a little slower the next few days because of the excessive heat, but passengers should be cooler, officials promised Wednesday.

The agency announced via Twitter that, as a safety precaution, 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 warned. 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, told Metra’s board. 

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, improved maintenance of the air conditioning units on Metra’s coaches should make the ride more comfortable, Marcheschi said.

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

“We are attacking this problem,” Marcheschi said. “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 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 given day last summer, 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 said Wednesday that crews will be stationed and ready to respond quickly if mechanical breakdowns occur. 

— Richard Wronski

A version of this story first appeared on Trains magazine’s News Wire.

Leave a Reply