By Evan Osnos
TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Date of Publication: August 31, 1999
Source: Chicago Tribune
To avoid a repeat of the sort of mechanical and communication breakdowns that crippled the Chicago Transit Authority during January's blizzard, the CTA should streamline its winter emergency plan and speed up a rehab project on half of its rail cars, according to a report by a Washington-based trade group.
CTA officials say they are addressing each of the group's recommendations, by improving maintenance procedures and accelerating the rehab project on its aging fleet of 2600-series rail cars.
In a report finalized last week by the American Public Transit Association, a panel of transit officials from five cities urged the CTA to make those and other changes in order to handle the sort of rare -- but seemingly inevitable -- emergency that dumped more than 21 inches of snow on the city during one storm last winter.
"There are obviously some things they need to do, and they are intent on doing them," said chairman of the panel Anthony Schill, who oversees rail and bus operations in Buffalo, N.Y.
Aside from its recommendations, the panel applauded the CTA for taking employees from desk jobs and using them to help monitor passenger levels during the overcrowding crisis that resulted from the mechanical failure of close to 300 rail cars.
That policy will be one of several formalized under a new Corporate Emergency Plan expected to be finished within the "next couple of months," according to CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney.
The thrust of the emergency plan will be to "ensure greater coordination of efforts and decision-makers during an emergency," according to a letter sent by CTA President Frank Kruesi to APTA in response to the findings.
Specifically, the new emergency plan will station a senior maintenance official along with the CTA vice presidents in charge of coordinating train service during emergencies. Part of the problem in January's storm, Gaffney said, was that executives making decisions about train service didn't know the extent of mounting mechanical problems.
Starting in November, CTA workers will begin testing each rail car before rush hour every day to make sure the cars work properly, Gaffney said.