Commuters stuck downtown when power surge knocks out Metra Electric line

Just as the evening rush hour was set to get rolling Tuesday, a major portion of the Metra Electric train line into the South Suburbs was shut down due to a power surge.
Metra spokeswoman Meg Riley said that Tuesday’s 90-degree temperatures caused overhead track wires to expand. Around 4:35 p.m., one wire became so slack that it sagged and touched the top of a train on a storage track, tripping a breaker at Metra’s Jackson Boulevard substation.
“The surge caused additional damage, and another surge went down the line to the station at 16th (Street), causing those breakers to trip,” Riley said.
The power surge led to electrical disruptions from Millennium Station to 51st Street station, causing Metra to suspend service on the line for two hours while workers assessed the problem and extent of the damage.
“It wasn’t a simple function of flipping a breaker and the system could come back online,” Riley said. “We had to find the root cause, analyze the damage and make sure everything was safe to operate on.”
Service resumed shortly after 7 p.m. on one track only, she said, as Metra staff worked overnight to repair and test the system to be sure it was safe to resume normal operations.
Riley said Metra monitors its wires and tracks carefully during extreme heat just as it does in freezing temperatures, both conditions that can impact their performance. In very hot temperatures, wires expand and sag, while tracks can actually bend.
“The colloquial term for that is ‘sun-kink,’” Riley said.
In these situations, Metra often instructs conductors to reduce speeds to provide themselves more reaction time if they encounter an equipment malfunction.
When it became clear Tuesday’s problem would take several hours to correct, Riley said Metra notified customers and suggested they find alternate means back to the south side and South Suburbs.
“Of course, we realize that for a number of people there is no other option,” she said.

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