This past fall, the Chicago Transit Authority (also commonly known as the CTA), experienced a bizarre incident, caused by employee negligence, on the blue line, which many are now labeling as the “ghost train.” According to the Chicago Tribune, this driver-less train breached multiple safeguards and traveled for almost a full mile before colliding with another blue line train on the morning of September 30th.
According to reports, this was unlike any incident seen previously by city rail workers. The train continued through several stops and curves at the Forest Park station and even passed by two track switches, either which should have stopped the train from continuing. The train even continued uphill near the Eisenhower Expressway and then actually accelerated to 20 mph before ramming into a stopped train picking up passengers at the Harlem stop.
This strange accident, and act of negligence, sent over 30 individuals to local hospitals to be treated for injuries. The impact at Harlem occurred with 40 people on board the stopped train. Due to such injuries and a strange occurrence of events, authorities such as the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Joint Terrorism Task Force became involved in investigation.
Instances of employee negligence were investigated. The Chicago Tribune goes on to explain that if the train had been properly parked in the yard at Forest Park, friction brakes should have applied to prevent the car from moving. Normally, the rail cars are equipped with a “dead man control” to prevent runaway trains. Train operators have to turn the handle of a master controller to release brakes and deactivate the dead man switch. If this handle is released while the train is in motion, the motor should automatically shut off and brakes should apply. However, a red light in the cab should have come on because this specific train was on the wrong tracks, which lead to its head-on collision with the outbound train at the Harlem stop. If a train does not have proper lineup, track switches are supposed to be engaged to put a train into emergency braking mode.
After a month of further investigations into the “ghost train” and its collision, CTA employees faced repercussions. According to more recent coverage by the Chicago Tribune, two employees were fired and two were suspended. After investigations, the primary causes of the accident has been concluded to lie with improper electrical techniques and with a CTA switch worker who left the “ghost train” in a powered-up mode while it was in storage at the rail yard. Proper procedures should have included retracting the electric coupler buttons to prevent an electrical connection between the cars. This worker was suspended for failing to power down the train and for not notifying a supervisor that the train was still receiving power. Two workers in particular were fired from their positions for improperly cleaning an electrical junction box one of the cars and for allowing water to enter the electrical components. Lastly, a supervisor in charge of rail yard cleaning was suspended as well.
If anything can be learned from this unique but highly dangerous incident, is that putting safety first can prevent serious accidents and injuries. Unfortunately, when transportation workers fail to employ such caution, people, like the 30 described above, may suffer serious personal injuries as a result of the negligence of others. If you or someone in your family has been involved in a CTA train accident during your commute or daily travels, you should turn to experienced attorneys for help. Accident lawsuits not only help injured victims receive compensation for the harms caused to them, but they also motivate transit authorities and operators to employ better, safer practice to prevent future litigation.