BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY
May 17, 2012 8:32PM
For Metra commuters there will be no morning coffee, sack lunches, luggage or backpacks Saturday to Monday. Those are just some of the restrictions being imposed on all Metra commuters during the NATO summit in Chicago.. | File photo
May 18, 2012 3:17AM
For Metra commuters there will be no morning coffee, sack lunches, luggage or backpacks Saturday to Monday.
Those are just some of the restrictions being imposed on all Metra commuters during the NATO summit in Chicago. And riders — just like airport travelers — might want to arrive earlier than usual for their scheduled departure because they might be subject to baggage checks.
“With no cup of coffee I will not be a happy camper,” said Donna Blackburn of Frankfort as she waited to board a train to Chicago earlier this week.
Some fellow early morning commuters on the Rock Island Line at Tinley Park’s 80th Avenue station said the restrictions are “ridiculous,” or “a little silly,” while others considered them “a minor inconvenience.”
“It will be weird,” Frankfort resident Mark Jongsma said as he sipped his coffee and clutched his lunch bag. “But it’s a good idea. There’s plenty of nuts out there.”
Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile said all riders on Metra’s Electric Line will be screened, since those trains go under McCormick Place where the summit will be held. There will be “less formal” screening on the other lines, with police on the platforms and onboard trains, some identifiable, some not, she said.
“Everyone could be subject to search,” Reile said. “It’s just one day. If you follow the guidelines, your trip will be as normal as possible.”
Some downtown companies have urged their employees to take extra precautions.
Dave Pecka of Tinley Park works at a bank building adjacent to Union Station. His firm has been giving employees “helpful hints” on handling the NATO event.
“We were told not to wear a suit and tie so that we blend in with the crowd,” he said. And he has the option of working from a more remote bank branch.
Unable to brown bag it, Karl Kosary and his coworkers were told to “stay close to the office” when they go out for lunch. An information technician, he’s more concerned about not being able to tote his backpack, which contains his laptop and everything he needs to do his job.
He thought information coming from Metra was “vague.”
“I think they are overreacting, especially on the Rock Island,” Kosary said. “I don’t see there being a lot of protestors here. We’re quite a ways from” a security zone around federal buildings downtown and the summit site itself.
Commuters will only be allowed to carry one bag that cannot exceed 15 inches by 15 inches and 4 inches deep — the most popular laptop size, Reile said. But it has a few wondering if their laptop cases will meet those specs.
Many commuters, such as Marianne Murphy, will be working from home Friday and Monday. Murphy, an engineer, said her firm has been preparing for months, solving connectivity issues to make sure employees can work remotely.
“The only downside is we can’t schedule any meetings. Gee, what a loss,” she said with a hint of sarcasm. “I think the restrictions and precautions are reasonable. You plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Despite some folks staying home, a few expect to see more commuters on the Rock Island Line since a number of stations on the Electric Line will be closed north of 111th Street — and some Electric Line trains halted completely Monday afternoon. Plus many workers just may not want to drive downtown.
Reile said Metra will be monitoring its passenger counts and adapt accordingly.
At the Homewood station on the Electric Line — which will feel the pain of the summit the most — Myron Murff was unhappy with the restrictions.
“I also don’t see what we gain as residents of this area, the city of Chicago included, from inviting these people to have this meeting here. It just seems like it’s more hassle than it’s worth,” said Murff, of Homewood, who will be commuting to work Friday and Monday.
At Park Ridge’s Uptown train station this week, some commuters on the Union Pacific Northwest Line acknowledged the Metra restrictions would be problematic.
Carol Kelly of Mount Prospect, who takes the Metra to her job in Wrigleyville, plans to either drive to the office or, if traffic is unbearable, work from home.
“I’m not comfortable being on the train on Monday and Friday,” she said, citing the uncertainty of who might be riding the train on days when large numbers of protesters are expected to converge on downtown. “I feel, why take the chance?”
Krzysztof Niechcial of Channahon works for a copy service in the city.
“My boss said there are clients and we’re open, so we have to go,” he said from Union Station in Joliet this week. “But I’m going to check the news on Sunday. Then I’m going to decide if I go or not. Everybody is scared.”
Jim Bailey, a Barrington resident, has to work from home because of the restrictions. He works in IT and must have his laptop at all times.
“If I can’t carry that, pretty much that’s why I can’t go to work,” he said.
For Barrington residents and St. Viator High School students Erik Doerscheing and Jackson Laterza, the restrictions mean getting to school by train simply isn’t an option. The two use the train nearly every day to commute from Barrington to the Arlington Heights school and need to have backpacks and other sporting equipment with them.
Jay Locke, who lives in Naperville but works in Chicago, has already cancelled a meeting with a client Friday in order to avoid the traffic and hassle.
“Like a lot of people, I want to avoid the city if I can,” he said.
Jan Gibson of Lake Forest works in Willis Tower — far from McCormick Place — and never expected the event to affect her workday. But she’s told her staff they should definitely plan to work from home on Monday.
Word of clowns possibly lobbing pies at passersby, warnings to wear casual clothing to better blend in with the crowd, and Metra’s restrictions on what can and cannot be brought on board prompted her decision, Gibson said.
“There were just too many red flags going up,” she said. “If you can work at home, it’s probably just easier to stay out of the area. I think it’s going to be a ghost town.”
Contributing: Matt Schmitz, Mike Danahey, Nikki Arseneau, Cindy Cain, Stephanie Kohl, David Sharos, Linda Blaser, Todd Shields