Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s Board of Trustees was adamant
about one thing at its meeting Friday morning: that the South Shore’s lines
of communication were tested and found seriously wanting on Jan. 12, when a
flash-freeze stranded some 400 South Shore passengers on an early-morning
train for five hours and left thousands more unable to get to work.
Michael Noland concurred with that assessment and told the board that NICTD
is working hard right now not only to improve its communications capability
but to ensure a similar incident never happens again.
Chesterton Tribune reported at the time, shortly before 6 a.m. on
Thursday, Jan. 12, rapidly falling temperatures caused a light rain to
flash-freeze, with the result that ice began accumulating on the overhead
concatenary wire in East Chicago as well as on Train 104’s pantagraph, the
spring-loaded mechanism which makes contact with the concatenary and
conducts electricity to the engine. Once the weight of the ice exceeded the
pantagraph’s 20 pounds of uplift, contact with the concatenary was lost and
the train was rendered powerless.
Train 104 were at that point transferred to the next westbound train of the
day, Train 6--the Sunrise Express--which duly departed East Chicago. The
same thing happened to Train 104/6, however, and at a remote area of
single-track territory west of Hegewisch it too lost power. And there it sat
for some three hours.
Noland told the board on Friday, is “nearly unprecedented. Some things we
did well. Some things we did not do well. There are some things we need to
Trustee Mark Repay,
representing Lake County, asked Noland how long the South Shore typically
waits before offloading stranded passengers.
In this particular
case, Noland replied, it simply wasn’t safe to do so. Train 104/6 was
stopped “on an embankment that was a sheet of ice,” he said. “Offloading
passengers wasn’t an option.”
That may have been
the case, Trustee Mark Yagelski, representing LaPorte County, indicated. But
the passengers themselves felt that “there was no good explanation why they
couldn’t get off.”
“I do appreciate
the fact that there are Mother Nature issues,” Repay continued. “It seems
like it would be a good idea to have something on paper,” explaining the
incident in full detail for passengers.
Noland--who on the
night of Jan. 12 did issue a lengthy apology to passengers--agreed with
Repay that such a document would be appropriate. “We can put together a
summary of the lessons learned and actions planned,” he said.
Cid, representing Lake County, noted that many of the passengers who had to
de-train at East Chicago “didn’t know what to do or where to go” and
wondered whether NICTD should have arranged buses.
percent of the time, by the time you’ve called the buses out, the problem
has been resolved,” Noland said. “And busing 5,000 people isn’t practical.
But we’re going to re-examine the possibilities for busing. And we’re going
to post public bus schedules in the stations.”
that, with 400 folks stuck on a train for five hours, some attempt might
have been made to get them coffee or hot chocolate.
In fact, Noland
said, NICTD’s “go-team” did get water to the people on Train 104/6. And
those passengers were later issued a voucher for a free one-way ride.
could’ve done better than a single one-way ride, Yagelski said, possibly
something on the order of a free one-month pass.
Noland replied that
most commuter railroads in the country wouldn’t have done even that much.
Trustee Jim Biggs,
representing Porter County, agreed with Yagelski. “They paid to get to work
that day,” he said. “And they didn’t get to work. Three to five hours stuck
on a train. That is unacceptable and we can’t let it happen again.”
Noland did detail
the actions that NICTD is taking in the aftermath of the incident:
* Folks registered
to receive e-mail alerts from NICTD got those in a timely manner on Jan. 12,
he said. Those registered to receive text alerts did not. That’s because the
texts were “getting jammed up in the system. They weren’t getting released.
Then folks would get an overflow of messages two hours late.” The solution
to that problem is to get folks “to migrate to email alerts,” Noland said.
“Texting is very limited. We’re shifting to e-mail and eliminating texting.”
* NICTD is also
investigating de-icing technology, including heated pantagraphs and
ice-cutting pantagraphs, Noland said.
* And NICTD plans
to acquire another diesel locomotive to provide power when there’s
disruption in electrical service, Noland added.