Amtrak Won’t Reimburse Stranded Metra Passengers

Amtrak has declined a demand by an Illinois Congressman that it reimburse Metra passengers who took alternative transportation home after more than 60,000 were stranded on Feb. 28 due to a computer malfunction at Chicago Union Station.

Rep. Daniel Lipinski had asked Amtrak to reimburse those who took a taxi or hired a ride sharing service after Metra service all but ground to a halt.

Amtrak has apologized for the incident, which it said occurred due to human error during a computer hardware upgrade.

The computer problem left Amtrak dispatchers unable to remotely control signals and switches at the station.

Although Amtrak trains were affected by the issues, Metra was hit hard because it accounts for 75 percent of the rail traffic and 90 percent of the passengers using Amtrak-owned Union Station.

Lipinski, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Rail, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has said he’ll hold an ad hoc hearing in Chicago in the coming weeks to probe the incident.

He said he was “extremely disappointed” over Amtrak’s refusal to reimburse Metra passengers.

“This raises the question of whether Amtrak should give Metra operational control of the station,” Lipinski said.

News reports have indicated that Amtrak was installing positive train control equipment when a technician fell on a circuit board while holding a live wire.

That resulted in an electrical short resulted in the primary and secondary servers used to control the signals and switches.

Amtrak has said that it typically does not conduct maintenance or upgrades of signal equipment during rush hour, but an inexperienced manager authorized an experienced senior technician to go ahead with the work.

A letter from Amtrak Senior Vice President Stephen Gardner to Lipinski said the passenger carrier understands that thousands of commuters were adversely affected and that it is “taking immediate concrete steps to ensure the causes of this event are addressed.”

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