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Inside The Zephyr Pit / Ash St., Chicago, Illinois Hot Spot

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All pictures displayed are video captures from actual program footage unless noted.

Program 116
Inside The Zephyr Pit / Ash St., Chicago, Illinois Hot Spot

We go behind the scenes at the former Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy's Zephyr Pit, located just south of Chicago's Union Station. Today, the facility now serves Metra operated commuter trains that ply the line between Chicago and Aurora, Illinois. This program starts with a cab ride from Aurora to Chicago aboard a rush hour, limited stops, express commuter train. Along the way we talk with the engineer while reaching speeds of 70 miles per hour. We then follow our train through the train washer and all of its daily maintenance procedures before making the return trip to Aurora that evening. Then we see a wheelset changed out on a car, and even a locomotive traction motor replaced. Videotaped in October of 1996.

Ash Street is located in the shadows of Interstate 55, alongside of the Illinois-Michigan canal, four miles southwest of Chicago. This spot featured an almost constant parade of Union Pacific trains, sprinkled with trains from Illinois Central and Wisconsin Central. Videotape in November of 1997.

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In 1997, over seventy five million passengers rode on passenger trains operated by Metra, Chicagoland's commuter rail service. From the heart of downtown Chicago, Metra routes extend north, south, and, west, into the surrounding suburbs.

Cab car view of BNSF's Chicago-Aurora mainline. Our train today is an express and will hold the center track most of the way to Chicago.

The washer is located just to the west of the main tracks entering Union Station. Empty Metra trains can then be routed south to 14th street via the washer. Similar to an automobile car wash, washing the train is a completely automated process. As long as the weather is warm enough, the exterior of the trains are washed on a regular basis.

Daily locomotive servicing usually only takes a few minutes. The fuel tank is topped off, lube oil added and the running gear given a general inspection. When parts like brake shoes becomes worn and are due to be replaced, it can be changed out while the locomotive is being fueled and serviced.

Serviced and back on the line, F40PH #181 is ready for the evening rush.

Major component work on Metra's F40's is also performed here as well.

On a F40PH, the traction motor and wheelset consist of one assembly. If either one of those components is defective, they are both taken out using a mechanized drop pit.

Coach wheelsets are also changed out using a smaller drop pit. The wheels can then be turned on a wheel lathe at the facility.

On the day we were at Ash St., Union Pacific was sending a constant parade of trains down from the north and through the crossing. GP15 #1727 was leading yet another string of container cars.

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