BUCKTOWN — Husband-and-wife drivers who were following each other in separate cars and blamed GPS for sending them up a ramp and onto the Metra tracks Tuesday have been slapped with trespassing tickets.
The married couple, who police sources identified as K. Bhatt, 69, and his wife J. Bhatt, 67, both from Chicago, were each given a ticket for trespassing on railroad property, according to Metra spokesman Michael Gillis.
The ordeal began around 6:20 p.m. Tuesday when the couple, possibly attempting to get on the Kennedy Expressway at North Avenue, instead drove up a ramp used by Metra workers and landed on the train tracks. One of the vehicles became stuck on the tracks and was hit by a train. The other was parked alongside the tracks.
No one was hurt, but the incident left more than 200 Metra passengers stranded on the train for three hours and backed up Metra service during a busy rush hour.
Gillis said the couple is scheduled to appear in Cook County Circuit Court, 50 W. Washington Ave. on Feb. 1.
The trespassing ticket is a class C misdemeanor and the Bhatts could each face a fine of up to $1,500.
Metra apologized to passengers who were on the Union Pacific Northwest train headed from the city to suburbs like Arlington Heights and Cary.
"We are sincerely sorry for the delay, but, as we always do following incidents such as this one, we attempted to resume service at quickly as possible, including calling for a tow truck immediately," Gillis said.
Yesenia Duran, who works in Downtown Chicago and lives in Jefferson Park, was on the train.
"They should be fined and face charges," Duran said the day after the incident. "Following a GPS is no excuse and at the same time one of the oldest excuses in the book for lazy driving. You should always be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to where you're driving."
Duran said she got home four hours later than usual and only saw her child for a few minutes before bedtime.
"It's one thing to know you're going to be delayed for a set time so you can prepare mentally and save your cell phone battery in case you need to make an emergency call, but to be told you'll be stranded indefinitely, without food, water or clean restrooms, is a nightmare. It was a nightmare I don't wish to relive, Duran said.
Duran questioned Metra's handling of the incident.
"Metra is a powerhouse that, as you know, just raised rates and intends to do so again next year, and they still don't have a decent plan in place for such an incident? A Metra train hits a car or person every other month and they still haven't found a way to speedily deal with getting their passengers out of a stopped train?"
Gillis issued the following statement.
"Unfortunately, while we know such incidents typically result in significant delays, there is no way for us to accurately predict how long it will be, because every situation is different. Among the factors that take time are the need to conduct an investigation, move the vehicle out of the way, inspect the tracks and equipment to make sure they are not damaged, and, in this case, wait for a relief engineer to operate the train. Through it all our priority is always the safety of our passengers," Gillis said.
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