Blue Line crash damage totals $9.1 million: NTSB

Written By BY ROSALIND ROSSI Transportation Reporter Posted: 04/08/2014, 04:23pm
Array President of Local 308, Robert Kelly talks about developments in the March 24th Blue Line derailment at O'Hare Airport. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

Federal officials Monday upped the cost of last month’s Blue Line crash from $6 million to $9.1 million as union officials accused the Chicago Transit Authority of moving too quickly in firing the train’s operator.

Also Monday, CTA officials said they have reviewed safety mechanisms at three similar stations and made adjustments at one of them.

But similarly swift action was not warranted in the CTA’s treatment of the train’s operator, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 President Robert Kelly said at a news conference.

The operator is “not driving a train,’’ Kelly said.

“The fact that the CTA moved quickly to fire her was wrong. There’s no reason for it. She’s on medical disability,” he added, referring to the operator, who has been identified as Brittney Haywood.

“My problem with this is they fired her before they even got [a federal preliminary] report” released Monday, Kelly said.

CTA officials announced Friday they had fired the operator on duty for the 2:50 a.m. crash on March 24. The crash sent a CTA Blue Line train jumping out of the end of the track bed at O’Hare International Airport and crashing onto an escalator.

A preliminary report issued Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board indicated a stopping mechanism, called a “trip,’’ was too close to the end of the track bed to stop the train, which was traveling at 26 mph, just faster than recommended. Rolling over the “trip” activated the train’s emergency-braking system, investigators said.

The CTA has since reduced the maximum speed coming into the O’Hare station from 25 mph to 15 mph and has moved the trip farther up the track bed of the center tracks that the ill-fated train had traveled.

In addition, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said the CTA has moved the trip at one of only three other CTA stations with tracks that dead-end at a station. At the Green Line’s Cottage Grove station, Steele said, the trip located before the station was moved farther back.

Safety mechanisms at the other two similar stations — Kimball and Midway — have been reviewed and the CTA has determined “no changes were needed,’’ Steele said.

The trip in question at the O’Hare station was located farther down the train bed, in the center of three tracks, near the end of the platform.

Kelly said the center track has only one trip mechanism, while the side tracks have an additional trip before the entrance to the station.

However, Steele indicated that even if the middle track had the extra trip, it would not have activated; the extra trips on the outer tracks are triggered only when another train is sitting at the station.

CTA officials are reviewing original designs from 35 years ago to determine why the O’Hare station, and in particular its center track bed, was built the way it was, Steele said.

“O’Hare was already built when we extended the Blue Line (to O’Hare) so we had to retrofit the rail line to the station,’’ Steele noted.

Kelly said a bumping post, automatic train controls that should have kicked in at 25 mph and the last trip at the end of the track bed all should have stopped the train but didn’t.

“There were several things that didn’t work, and there was human error,’’ Kelly said. “But we’ve made a scapegoat out of one person and not anybody else or the procedures.’’

NTSB officials originally had said Haywood admitted dozing off after only about a month on the job, when she overshot a station Feb. 1, and again at the time of the March 24 Blue Line crash. Their Monday preliminary report said the operator told investigators she had “fallen asleep” after seeing a signal indicating an upcoming signal would require her to stop.

Kelly insisted Monday Haywood merely “dozed off” in what must have been only a matter of seconds before the crash.

“I was there with her” at the time of the interview, Kelly said. “She said she dozed off. She didn’t say she pulled out a pillow and went to sleep.”

Haywood told NTSB investigators she’d had “inadequate” sleep the night before the crash and was “tired” when she started the ill-fated shift — her third night shift in a row, the NTSB said Monday.

New CTA scheduling rules announced Friday to require more time off for rail riders cannot be “unilaterally” imposed, but the union is willing to discuss them with the CTA, Kelly said. As a result, new twice-annual schedules due out this week have been put on hold until the proposed CTA rules can be “negotiated,’’ he said.

New CTA rules would require operators with less than a year’s experience to work no more than 32 hours in a week. Haywood had been qualified as a rail operator only since January. She had worked nearly 60 hours the week before the crash, the NTSB noted.

After the accident, Haywood said she “loves’’ her job but has not yet indicated if she wants to fight her dismissal, Kelly said.

At least eight passengers have filed negligence suits against the CTA following a crash that NTSB officials said sent 32 passengers and the operator to local hospitals.


Twitter: @rosalindrossi

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