Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Blizzard 2011- Chicago Metra Commuter Service Behind the Scenes

I just found my husband. I was so worried that I started calling hotels in the town where he was supposed to put his train to bed last night. On the first call, I found him. I didn't want to wake him up, so I asked the clerk not to ring his room. An hour later, I couldn't take it anymore- I wanted to know if he had eaten or slept recently. I called the hotel again and asked the clerk to ring his room. The clerk told me he had just checked out, but that he had told my husband that I was concerned. My husband told him that his phone had lost its charge and said he'd call me when he could plug it in.

Finally he called me from the train station employee break room. He said that he was up all night. His trains were delayed for hours because of switch malfunctions. He spent much of the night outside the train on the ground clearing switches and throwing them. He was really, really cold. When they finally finished their shift, they couldn't get from the station to the hotel- just as I had thought. They spent the night in the employee area of the train station. There were two armchairs for about 10 people. They took turns on the chairs. My husband got about 2 hours of really uncomfortable rest in. Then they found a ride with someone who had a four wheel drive truck who took them back to the hotel. My husband just ahd enough time to pack up his stuff, check out, and leave. He had to be back at the station by 1:30 to work, and wasn't sure if he could get a ride if he waited longer.

So now he and the rest of the crew are holed up at the employee area of the station. My husband brought his food from the hotel - he only has a few pieces of bread and a few slices of lunchmeat and 2 prepackaged pastries. When he starts work, he will undoubtedly work another 12 hours, and will possibly end up stranded again.

So this is my appeal to rail fans out there: If you are riding trains during blizzards or other natural disasters, please remember that railroad workers are doing their best. Many work in outlying areas where they have little or no access to places to sleep, and no access to food. There are not even any vending machines where my husband is at.

I'm hoping that the station downtown will have it's food court open so that he can refuel there.

These train crews have it tough this week- I wish I could help them.

Blizzard 2011 - Wondering How My Metra Conductor Husband Is

My husband has been working commuter service in the Chicago area. I talked to him yesterday morning shortly before lunchtime. He went on duty at 1 pm and usually ties up around 1 am, and then heads back to the hotel in the outlying suburban town near the station where he starts his day- but now the blizzard has come and I don't know how he is. The roads are closed and roads are impassable. I've seen news reports that Chicago Metra trains were a madhouse, so I'm sure he's exhausted. I'm not sure if he had to go out and unfreeze and throw switches himself last night, or if there were enough maintenance of way people out to do that. It's pretty dangerous being out there in the dark, with low visibility and howling winds, working on throwing switches- especially when all of the schedules have been changed at the last minute to help load extra passengers due to the storm. It's easy to be out there, trying to unfreeze a switch, and actually not be aware of a train coming on a parallel track- conductors get killed doing that- especially when schedules have been altered and extra trains are running. Things get confusing. Miscommunication happens and people get killed- not often- but often enough to make me a little nervous.

So I'm a little worried about him. I'm not sure if he was able to get to his hotel at the end of his shift. The hotel is in an outlying area- not downtown. Not sure if he got stranded in his car, or if he had to spend the night in the train station, or on the train. He usually doesn't carry food in his grip, because he doesn't like the chance of bits of food messing up his paperwork, and the lockers on commuter trains are too small to carry an extra bag for lunch. He doesn't have room to carry pillows or blankets either. For all I know, passengers could have gotten stranded at an outlying station as well. Power has been out for tens of thousands of people- hoping that all of the train stations have power, that all passengers got home safely once they got off the trains, and hoping my husband is safe, and that he got some rest before going back to work today. I'd call him, but he could be sleeping, and I wouldn't want to wake him up if he's resting comfortably somewhere.

There are so many people out working in this storm- people of all professions- dealing with frustrated people. I'm feeling very thankful for all of them now- policemen, firemen, paramedics, doctors, nurses, electric company linemen, communications tower repairmen, and railroad crews- just to name a few. Let's all be extra nice to them next time we see them.