CHICAGO – Video shows no one at the controls of an out-of-service commuter train as it barreled head-on into a Blue Line train stopped at a station in Forest Park Monday morning, injuring dozens of people, Chicago Transit Authority officials said.
The agency said it still was waiting to review other video along the line and at the Forest Park train yard, where two of the four cars had been awaiting repairs. But it was at a loss to explain how the train rolled out of the station and down the line to the Harlem Avenue stop, where it collided with a train headed toward the station shortly before 8 a.m. CDT.
The train passed at least two switches that should have stopped it and was going about 20 mph when it hit the other train, crumpling the fronts of both and jolting passengers to the floor. The CTA said 33 people were taken to nine hospitals but there were no serious injuries.
“We do have fail-safes in place. However, they didn’t function the way that they should have in this particular case,” said CTA spokesman Brian Steele.
There was no apparent sign that the train had been broken into at the yard, he said. “There’s no broken windows, there’s no pried-open doors, there’s no graffiti or vandalism inside the rail car,” Steele said. “But we are doing a thorough investigation of this.”
Steele said officials are waiting to see other surveillance to determine whether anyone was on the train.
Amalgamated Transit Union president Robert Kelly called the accident “baffling.”
He said the train included two cars that were on hold since last week, waiting for repairs at the Skokie yard. He said it takes two keys to start a train, one to enter the operator’s booth and one to turn on the train. The train would have had to power up to get over a rise in the tracks before the line slopes down to the Harlem stop.
Kelly said the train somehow got through three interlocks and overcame a “dead man’s switch,” designed to stop the train when a controller’s hands are off the switches.
“This is baffling everybody,” he said. “The train should have been tripped and gone into emergency. It’s starting to look like a mechanical malfunction.”
The National Transit Safety Board has taken over the investigation and said it is bringing in a team of specialists. Tim DePaepe, a railroad accident investigator for the NTSB, said the agency has not identified a probable cause.
Taylor Pettiford was waiting at Harlem Avenue for the train that would take her to school when she heard screaming.
“Stop! Stop! Stop the train!” she heard people yelling. “Slow down!”
Then there was a big crash and more screams. Pettiford saw a woman who had been knocked down complaining that her shoulder hurt.
“I instantly started crying and I called my mom to come pick me up,” Pettiford, 17, said.
Pettiford said she was rushed off the platform by CTA personnel.
Kayla Clemons, 14, said she had just gotten on the train when the collision occurred.
“I actually said goodbye and the doors close and out of nowhere I heard this big boom and then everybody flew,” Kayla said told WGN-TV. “I fell to the ground. I hurt my leg and my arm and, well, I was laying down. But they opened the doors and it was smoke everywhere.”
Her sister, Jayla Clemons, 11, said it sounded like the conductor was trying to communicate with the approaching train.
“I heard the conductor, he was like, ‘Stop, stop!’ But I guess nobody was on it,” Jayla said. “So then he jumped off and then the whole thing, it hit each other. And then I was like, ‘My sister’s on it,’ and then I just fell. The whole ground was shaking so my back hit something that was metal and then I fell and my knee popped.”
Martinez Butler, who said he works as a locomotive engineer for another company, was standing nearby when the trains collided.
“There was a train that was stopped at the station. Another train came through and looked like it blew the signal because I heard beeping,” he said. “I’m a locomotive engineer. I know the systems, I know the sounds. When you hear those beepings, it’s warning you that there is an obstruction in front of you and you need to stop.”
Dr. Dan Noonan, director of emergency services at Rush Oak Park Hospital, said three doctors took care of the injured there.
“We had a full complement of nurses to take care of them,” he said. “And actually we had an extra two of our physician assistants that came in today. This was their first day and they got to see all this excitement.”
©2013 Chicago Tribune
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PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): CTA-COLLISION