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Metra North Central Line halted Tuesday after derailment

A frustrated motorist attempts raise crossing gate Lake Street Grayslake thwent down despite no rail traffic following derailment three miles

A frustrated motorist attempts to raise a crossing gate on Lake Street in Grayslake that went down despite no rail traffic following a derailment three miles south on the Canadian National Railway on Tuesday, Jan. 28. | Dan Moran/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 30, 2014 3:36AM

The automated announcement came over the speakers inside the Grayslake North Central Metra depot about every 10 minutes on Tuesday, Jan. 28:

“Attention please ... Due to a CN derailment, the North Central service will not be operating until further notice. Please seek alternate transportation.”

Heidi Pretzer of Round Lake, who had just been dropped off to catch a train that wasn’t coming, was among those sorting through her options.

“I’ll have to try Dial-a-Ride,” she said of the Pace service for destinations within Lake County. “I can’t try Pace buses — they only run in certain areas. You can’t just catch them anywhere.”

Outside in a nearly deserted parking lot, an American Airlines employee who usually catches the 9:18 a.m. North Central train to O’Hare International Airport was about to be dropped off when she heard about the cancelled service.

“Looks like we’re driving you,” said her escort.

With forecasted highs below zero, train platforms in Buffalo Grove and Prairie View were turned to quiet frozen tundras late Tuesday morning. A combined total of five cars sat in the two parking lots.

In Buffalo Grove, Brian Kim arrived at the Metra station to learn that his plans for that day were changing. The 20-year-old student at the Art Institute of Chicago was expecting to take the 11:37 a.m. train.

“I’m going to wait it out,” he said, before CN announced all trains would be halted for the day.

At the time, the overhead speakers in the station offered an automated announcement: “Metra apologizes for this inconvenience, and thank you.”

North Central commuters scrambled for options after a single car on a Canadian National freight train derailed north of Winchester Road in Mundelein just after midnight Tuesday.

Because the accident took place on a single-track segment of the railway, all other traffic — commuter and freight — was blocked. Metra officials sent out an alert just after 3:30 a.m. that North Central service would not be operating “until further notice,” and recommending that passengers use the Milwaukee District North line.

By 11:12 a.m., with the train still sitting between Winchester and Midlothian roads, Metra announced that the North Central had been sidelined for the entire day.

“CN crews have been working to re-rail their freight train, move it from the scene of the derailment in Mundelein, and inspect and repair damage to the tracks,” Metra officials said in a statement. “They also have several other freight trains that were stopped due to the accident that must be moved before our service can resume. They expect this process to take at least until early evening (Tuesday).

“In order to give them time to make a full recovery from the accident, Metra will not resume service on the line until Wednesday morning, Jan. 29, when we expect to provide our normal weekday schedule.”

The North Central line opened in 1996 with 10 runs per day on what was a single Wisconsin Central Railroad line. Service was expanded when double-tracked sections were added in communities like Grayslake by 2006, and the line currently runs 22 trains per day from Antioch to Chicago’s Union Station, serving an estimated 5,800 riders per day.

Lake County stops on the line include Antioch, Lake Villa, Round Lake Beach, Libertyville, Mundelein, Vernon Hills, Prairie View and Buffalo Grove.

The derailment took place just east of Midlothian Road and the Prairie Crossing station, about a mile and a half before a double-tracked section begins north of Route 176.

According to the Lake County Division of Transportation, roadway crossings blocked by the train into Tuesday afternoon included Peterson Road and Winchester Road. Both crossings were reportedly cleared by 1:30 p.m., according to Lake County PASSAGE. Sporadic delays due to downed gates were also reported at Lake Street in Grayslake and Route 83 in Antioch.

— Ronnie Wachter,, contributed to this report

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