CTA fires L operator after crash, revamps scheduling rules

Written By BY ROSALIND ROSSI Transportation Reporter Posted: 05/06/2014, 06:07am
Array A Chicago Transit Authority train car rests on an escalator at the O'Hare Airport station after it derailed early Monday, March 24, 2014, in Chicago. More than 30 people were injured after the train "climbed over the last stop, jumped up on the sidewalk and then went up the stairs and escalator," according to Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago. (AP Photo/NBC Chicago, Kenneth Webster) MANDATORY CREDIT ORG XMIT: NY108

The train operator who admitted nodding off at the controls before a Blue Line train crashed last month was fired Friday — the same day the CTA announced it was requiring train operators to have more time off between shifts.

The operator was terminated for the 2:50 a.m., March 24 crash at the Blue Line’s O’Hare International Airport station that sent 32 passengers to local hospitals, CTA officials said. She has been identified as Brittney Haywood.

The incident marked her second “serious safety violation” since January, when she was officially qualified to be a train operator, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said.

Her termination came after she failed to appear at a disciplinary hearing earlier in the week and then did not call the CTA by Friday, as requested, Steele said.

Haywood has told federal investigators that she overshot a station Feb. 1 while nodding off, and dozed off again March 24, just before her Blue Line train blew past the last stop, vaulted out of the track bed and crashed into an escalator and stairs leading to one of the busiest airports in the world.

Haywood, 25, was a so-called “extra-board” employee who filled in for vacationing or ill employees by calling in after 4:30 p.m. daily for her schedule. Just last week, Robert Kelly, president of the CTA’s rail union local, said he would fight a termination. He has charged that erratic starting times and unlimited overtime allowed under CTA “extra-board” rules contributed to Haywood’s fatigue at the time of the crash.

Steele said Friday there was “nothing about the operator’s work schedule that suggests that fatigue should have played a factor in her performance.’’ She had 18 hours off before her ill-fated shift began, he noted.

In addition, Steele said, one stop before O’Hare, at Rosemont, Haywood would have had to have walked across the front of the cab, manually opened the doors and put her head out the window to make sure passengers had exited before starting the 4 1/2 minute trip to the last stop, at O’Hare. And, she would have had to have manually slowed the train as it entered a tunnel before the O’Hare stop, Steele said.

Even so, the CTA Friday put out a news release announcing that it was revising its rail operator scheduling policies “to maximize safety for our customers and our employees” following the O’Hare crash.

Those changes included:

— Upping the minimum hours off between shifts from 8 to 10 hours.

— Limiting operators with less than one year of experience to operating a train no more than 32 hours in one week.

— Requiring at least one day off in any seven-day period. No limit is currently required.

— Setting a 12-hour maximum for the number of actual train operating hours within a 14-hour time period.

— Giving all rail operators another round of “fatigue awareness training.’’

Haywood had worked two shifts as a rail flagman and five shifts as a rail operator in the seven days before her ill-fated shift, volunteering for two of those shifts, CTA records indicate. Though a rookie rail operator, she worked 43.7 hours in that capacity the week before and 12 hours as a flagman, records indicate.

She had only 40 minutes off between two of her shifts. Two shifts started at 7:30 a.m., six others started at 6:40 p.m. or later, including as late as 9:20 p.m.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the Blue Line crash, recommends that transportation workers in critical positions be allowed at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep between shifts, officials there say.

Fatigue has been listed as a factor in 20 percent of the accidents the agency investigated in the 12-year period ending in 2012, NTSB fatigue expert Mark Rosekind said.

Being forced to sleep during the day or staying awake for unusually long periods of time can contribute to fatigue, Rosekind said. That fatigue can surface when “you start stripping away different kinds of stimulation from the environment,’’ he said. That includes working in a dark and monotonous setting, such as the train tracks in a subway tunnel.

Performance impaired by fatigue isn’t a constant zero — it’s variable, Rosekind said.

“That’s why you can have a conversation with somebody and three minutes later, they have a fatigue problem,” Rosekind said.

“If that sleepiness emerges, you can have an uncontrolled spontaneous sleep that can occur even in a life-threatening situation,’’ Rosekind added

At least eight passengers have sued the CTA for negligence in the March 24 crash. Bridget Duignan, an attorney for four of those passengers, said even 10 hours off does not seem enough time for someone in charge of the safety of hundreds of passengers daily.

Haywood had a 1 1/2-hour commute to work, union officials have said. “When do these people get to sleep?” Duignan asked.

However, Steele said the new 10-hours-off requirement puts the CTA on par with Boston and Washington, and ahead of New York and Philadelphia, which allows eight hours off.

In the Feb. 1 incident, Haywood told CTA officials she had merely “closed her eyes for a moment” when she overshot a Blue Line stop by one car, CTA officials have said.

Her comments to the CTA did not indicate she had fallen asleep; only that “there was a moment of inattention,’’ Steele said. She received a mere written warning because she did not endanger passengers by opening the doors, but the violation was still considered “serious,’’ he said.

Following the March 24 crash, the CTA moved the “trip arms” intended to stop speeding trains farther back from the end of the O’Hare track bed, and reduced the speed of trains coming into the O’Hare station from 25 to 15 mph.

Email rrossi@suntimes.com

Twitter @rosalindrossi

Browse More 'Uncategorized'