Cold-weather wheel problems sideline rail cars on 3 Union Pacific Metra lines

SHARE Cold-weather wheel problems sideline rail cars on 3 Union Pacific Metra lines
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Sun-Times file photo

More than 42,000 commuters on the Union Pacific’s North, Northwest and West lines could be packed in like sardines for the next few days, thanks to a now-moderated polar plunge that has wreaked havoc with train wheels.

Metra spokesman Mike Gillis said 20 of the 309 rail cars assigned to the three UP lines were pulled out of service Monday because they need new wheels.

Other lines had similar wheel replacement problems, but not nearly as extensive as the Union Pacific lines.

“This is not abnormal during the winter months. The cold accelerates the wear on the wheels. What is a little unusual is that we had a bigger, longer cold snap than normal. So, they have more cars than usual out of service,” Gillis said Monday.

“They’re working around the clock to get these cars back in service. Every day, they’re going to have more in service. It’ll help that we have milder weather here. … If there’s not more cars taken out of service, we should see a big improvement over the next few days. But, for the next few days, there could be trains short of cars.”

A popular train on the Union Pacific’s North Line during the height of the morning rush hour was packed, with commuters standing in the aisle. Conductors didn’t even try to check tickets or collect fares.

Instead, the conductor apologized for the crowded conditions that delayed arrival at the Ogilvie Transportation Center and explained that the cold weather had “wreaked havoc” with the wheels. As a result, Metra lost money.

“They should be trying to collect tickets as best they can — and I’m sure they are,” Gillis said.

Gillis was asked whether there was anything Union Pacific officials could have done differently to prevent the wheel damage that’s sidelining cars.

“You can’t prevent the wear on the wheels. It’s just a function of going from cold to having the brakes applied, which generates heat,” he said.

“In the winter when that happens, the wear on the wheels is accelerated. It has certain tolerances. If it’s past that tolerance or close to it, they have to take it out of service and replace the wheels.”

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