Broken air conditioning on heels of schedule changes steams BNSF riders

  • Commuters are steamed about hot, slow trains on the Metra BNSF line.

      Commuters are steamed about hot, slow trains on the Metra BNSF line. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, June 2018

 
 

Sweat-drenched Metra commuters aren't reacting well to air-conditioning fizzling on the BNSF Line and that put the freight railroad on the hot seat Wednesday.

BNSF Railroad executives estimated they had received an average of 12 to 14 complaints a day about failed AC units on commuter cars, out of a fleet of 112. The culprit is partly the age of the railcars and cooling systems, officials said.

Also, the railroad's electricians are spread thin trying to install an automatic braking system called Positive Train Control, Mechanical Department Superintendent of Field Operations Sherwin Hudson said.

The explanation did not appease Metra Director John Zediker of Naperville, who's received an earful from steaming BNSF riders.

"What's going on in that line is unacceptable," Zediker said, adding the broken AC comes on the heels of significant train delays in June triggered by a new BNSF schedule necessitated by Positive Train Control.

"Between PTC and hot cars ... I think that's the straw that broke the camel's back," Zediker said. "I've heard more from disgruntled passengers in the last 30 to 60 days than I've heard in my five years on the board."

Rider Dave Keating of Aurora reported stifling conditions in one car with AC out for at least a week. "Rider agitation is noticeable," he said.

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The problem is mostly affecting BNSF's older "Budd" cars, Metra Executive Director Jim Derwinski said. "Some of those condensers have been out there 40 years. It's an ongoing problem and unfortunately in the air-conditioning world, there is no easy answer."

The BNSF line carries the most commuters on Metra along with balancing a hectic freight schedule.

Hudson said the railroad was working on the problem. "We'll take a deeper dive and try to determine the root cause," he said.

Keating noted that "since the beginning of summer, and after the timetable switch, the issues with the hot cars has caused overly crowded conditions multiple times, since no one wants to sit in them."

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