March 30, 2014. Chicago. A Chicago CTA train, affectionately known locally as the El because of its periodic two-story high elevated tracks, crashed at a high speed into the wall at the end of the line at O’Hare Airport on Monday. In a revelation still horrifying Chicagoans, none of the safety mechanisms worked and the entire 8-car train literally sailed through the air, over a wall, along the pedestrian platform, and right up the escalator.
The March 24th CTA train crash and ride up the O'Hare Airport escalator. Image courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago.
You have to see it to believe it (see video below). The still photo of the electric powered passenger train is jaw-dropping enough. But the video footage is even more incredible. And for Chicago commuters like this author that live in the area and have ridden the CTA Blue Line route to O’Hare Airport hundreds of times, even the video doesn’t do justice to unbelievable journey this runaway train made once it jumped four feet into the air, over a wall, down the station’s sidewalk and up the escalator.
Fortunately, the train crash one week ago occurred at 2:50am at the tail end of a sleepy Sunday midnight shift. Both the day and the hour helped keep the number of injured to a minimum and thankfully, there were no fatalities. Even still, 32 passengers, including the train’s conductor, were taken to area hospitals for medical treatment. Now, both the Transit Union and city officials are pointing fingers at each other for the cause of the crash.
The train driver at the time of the accident was a 25-year-old rookie driver that had only been on the job for two months. And it’s been revealed that in her first month on the job, she fell asleep at the throttle and overshot a train station. Local media outlets have also reported that the train driver has a criminal history with multiple arrests but no convictions.
Nothing worked right
Union officials are fighting back, insisting the CTA had worked the woman to the brink of exhaustion over the previous seven days and that none of the CTA’s long touted safety mechanisms worked at all. The train conductor admits falling asleep again and is reportedly very shook up over the accident. The union says she worked 69 hours in the 8 days leading up to the crash. “I’m not trying to absolve her of responsibility,” Transit Union President Robert Kelly told reporters, “But did the 69 hours play a role? I’m sure it did.”
NTSB spokesmen have confirmed that the train was going 25mph when it entered the O’Hare station, the final stop on the Blue Line that connects busy downtown Chicago to third busiest airport in the world. That’s the proper speed at that precise spot. But the train should have rapidly come to a stop next to the commuter platform and only a few dozen feet before a 4-foot-high concrete wall. A number of automatic stopping mechanisms failed to work, including the wall. The CTA had also promised a small rubber ‘stopper’ would stop any runaway trains. But the 8-car train ran it over like an aluminum can.
DOT hours controversy
Commercial drivers, especially those that transport people, are held by federal law to strict limits on the number of hours they can work. There are limits to consecutive hours, total hours in a week, and the number of hours a driver or conductor must be off from work. Based on confusing announcements regarding the timesheet of the train’s driver at the time of the crash, it appears that both the CTA and union leaders are making sure the official paperwork fits within the limit of the law, even if only by a hair.
According to the Transit Union, the driver had worked 69 hours in the 8 days prior to the train crash. That’s just one hour below the legal limit of 70 hours in 8 days. And that begs the question, was the sleepy train conductor about to get off work less than an hour before the crash? If not, the CTA and the driver would be in violation of the law, a law specifically designed to keep commercial drivers from falling asleep at the wheel, or the throttle in this case.
As detailed by local media reports quoting Union and CTA officials, only three days before the crash that injured 32 passengers but luckily saw no fatalities, the conductor in question had worked 9 hours, 9 hours, and 5 hours, all within one 24 hour period. That totals 23 hours and would be a gross violation of federal DOT safety laws. The media reports contradict themselves saying that she had one 9-hour break during that 24 hour period. But readers get the gist of the controversy over her working too many hours, not to mention the games being played with the driver’s timesheets.
Attempting to clear up the widespread confusion over just how many hours the train conductor worked in the days prior to the crash at O’Hare, CTA officials released a statement confirming that the driver had worked nearly 14 straight hours, taken 18 hours off, and then started her fateful shift that ended in the spectacular video below.
CTA video footage of the March 24, 2014 train crash at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport
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