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Brown Line trains moving after disruptions from fire

It was a terrible, horrible no good, very bad day for thousands of North Side commuters Tuesday morning.

Brown and Purple Line riders had to change their travel plans on the fly — and in the freezing cold — when an extra-alarm fire erupted adjacent to elevated tracks in Lincoln Park and ripped through a shuttered grade school. Water from fire hoses froze on the tracks, halting trains for more than six hours.

Brown Line trains were halted between Fullerton and the Merchandise Mart. Purple Line trains were halted between Howard and the Loop.

Thousands of out-of-luck commuters packed onto a limited amount of Red Line trains headed to the Loop. Between the tardiness, bitter cold and extreme proximity to others, the limits of politeness were definitely tested, riders reported.

“This has to be what CTA hell would look like,” tweeted one passenger stuck in the mess.

Meanwhile — a little to south and a bit east – drivers headed to the Loop bit their lips as a bus fire on Lake Shore Drive at North Avenue stopped southbound traffic between 5:45 a.m. and 9 a.m. The charred shell of a CTA bus was all that remained by the time firefighters extinguished the blaze.

CTA riders gave varying — but mostly bleak — assessments of their morning commutes. Most agreed it was unorganized, at best.

Describing her experience as “terrible,” Samantha Arnold, 28, of Palatine, said she was aboard a Merchandise Mart-bound Brown Line when the intercom cut in and announced the train wouldn’t budge anytime soon.

Instead, she boarded a waiting CTA shuttle bus to complete the last short leg of her commute — a decision she came to regret.

“There were a billion people trying to get on a shuttle,” Arnold said. “In retrospect, I should have just walked. The bus driver . . . did not share exactly where we were going.”

She missed her stop and had to backtrack on foot.

“It was terrible and it was very cold. It had to happen on the coldest day of the year,” Arnold said.

Andrew Plath, 25, was waiting for a Purple Line Express in Evanston when he got word that the Brown and Purple lines were on serious delay.

This first thought to cross his mind?

“Ah, crap,” said Plath, who boarded a crowded Red Line train instead. “It was just jammed packed. And everyone’s getting all upset and angry at each other.”

Plath made it to class at the Chicago School in the Merchandise Mart about half an hour late. But another classmate had it worse, trying to avoid the train delay by taking a cab.

“Someone made the grave mistake of trying to take a cab on Lake Shore Drive,” Plath said.

The bus fire made sure they didn’t get anywhere anytime soon.

In the subzero temperatures, water sprayed by Chicago firefighters quickly became ice coating the L tracks near a Lincoln Park fire. Service on the Brown and Purple lines was disrupted as a result. | Al Podgorski / Sun-times Media

Firefighters battle a fire at a building in Lincoln Park. / Photo from Network Video Productions

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