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Train woes mount with Green Line derailment

In the third major CTA accident in less than two months, a southbound Green Line train derailed after an operator ignored red stop signals and entered a junction area before tracks were switched into the proper position. Fourteen passengers were hospitalized, none with serious injuries.

Passengers reported the motorman ordered them to move to one side of the car to better distribute weight in the car to avoid it from tipping onto the pavement more than 20 feet below. The motorman is a 31-year veteran of the CTA.

Investigators found that the switch was cracked, but were not sure whether the crack occurred during the accident.

In April, an unoccupied Red Line train south moving into Howard derailed. And a week before that incident an electrical problem on a Blue Line train touched off a subway evacuation of passengers.

Green Line problems in Boston too. Ironically, two Green Line trains in Boston had their own problems Wednesday, when one rear-ended another, resulting in several injuries, and reportedly the death of one operator.

Comments

UNACCEPTABLE. When is the CTA going to put SAFETY first? It's a miracle no one was killed in Chicago, we don't need a reprise of 1977.

Based on the information we have, it's unclear to me that "the CTA" can be blamed for a motorman running the signal.

"Passengers reported the motorman ordered them to move to one side of the car to better distribute weight in the car to avoid it from tipping onto the pavement more than 20 feet below."

Are these the same passengers who "reported" that there were about a thousand passengers on the train (some phone interview on CLTV or NBC). Or the same ones who reported that there were 31 injured? The fire department later said there were only 24 passengers even on the train.

Or maybe these were the same passengers that said that the train was "speeding fast" when it derailed. From a complete stop 30 feet before? When have any of us been on a train that accelerates that quickly from a stop?

Perception is often far removed from reality. The reality is that a single empty rail car weighs 54,000 lbs - about 25 tons. The collective weight of half of the passengers on that whole train wouldn't make a difference in whether that car was going to tip. (And multiple pictures show that neither involved car was tilting even more than a few degrees. They were straddling across the tracks, but not tilting)

The news media has become so desperate for stories that they will interview a brother-in-law of a husband whose wife was on the train. A whole different sort of he said she said.

I certainly don't mean to excuse any negligent conduct on the part of the train operator, but on the whole the safety record of CTA train operators seems to be pretty good. (The other two recent derailments were, if I'm not mistaken, due to track maintenance deficiencies - but I'm sure someone will gracefully and tactfully correct me if I'm wrong...)

How many among us can say that in 31 years we've never missed a stop sign while driving?

I'm not surprised it happened, but I'm surprised that the passengers weren't blamed for the derailment. I heard a rumor that they were swaying from side to side in unison right before the crash (I think it was to the song "Stay" (Won't yo Stay just a little bit longer)....I also understand they were holding lighters too...

I don't mean to make light, but I don't know how many times I've been on a train that went through a red signal, usually at the direction of the controllers due to a malfunctioning switch (the latest was this Tuesday, a red switch going into lake). After a while when it happens so much they tend to ignore it like the beeps in slow zones...


KevinB

In a situation where there is a weight of 27,000 pounds on either side of a fulcrum, moving, say, 2,000 lbs worth of passengers (which might be 25 passengers) can have a huge effect.

Remember a few months ago during the Blue Line incident near Grand when within three hours Huberman was blaming the passengers for evacutating as the cause for the long shutdown? A few hours later, he had to do some heavy-duty backpedalling on that.

Now he waits three hours to blame the operator for maneuvers which may very well turn out to be standard practice or even authorized by his controller center.

Read the Trib article today. The headline says "derailment blamed on operator". Then:
" "It appears the operator passed the signal improperly," Huberman said at the accident scene. "

Then Huberman changes his mind and backs off -- a little:
" "Until we have [the operator's] full statement and all the physical evidence from the incident here is gathered, all of this is very preliminary," Huberman said."

How long before maybe we hear that the operator was authorized by his controller center to do the exact maneuvers he did?

To be clear, I'm not trying to defend the operator when I clearly don't know all the facts. But I do think there is a serious culture there of rush-to-judgment and then back off that benefits no one.

I saw an AP headline yesterday about ours--something about "another Chicago derailment". Quite a rep we've got these days!

Just glad no one was seriously hurt here.

The bizarre part of the story to me was the number of people in the Trib's coverage who personally credited God with keeping the train on the tracks. But sure enough, in the photos on the Trib's site, you can almost see the big ghostly fingers supporting the train. (Of course, He was kind of a dick for derailing it in the first place.)

Television news is at the forefront of a disintegration of our inteligence. I'm not sure about a cause and effect, but there's definately a correlation.

When color TV became common, any open flame at night could be gauranteed a lead spot on TV news for the next two days. Of course they couldn't get cameras to every open flame before it turned into an uninteresting smoldering mess, but the lesson they learned lives on: Get something interesting on film.

These days, outrageous video can be found so many other places that it doesn't have the same impact. But outrageous sound bite... There's the ticket!

And then we've got this overwhelming need to be the first to report something shocking. Get people to say 100 shocking things, and odds are that one of them will be lucky enough to be right. If you can find that 100th shocking sound bite before the competition, you get bragging rights.

So we hear about 31 people injured in a group of 24 people because it's more imporant to be the first to report 31 just in case it turns out to be true. You can bet that once the other stations heard someone on the air reporting 31, they started looking for people who might be willing to say 32, 33, or anything higher. Doesn't matter if it turns out to be wrong later, they would want to be able to say they were the first to report a higher number.

And the blame game: Can't you just hear the promotions. "We were the first to let you know it was the motorman's fault..." Meanwhile, some other channel's "investigative team" will be out there looking for reasons to blame SOP. "We were the first to let you know it was the fault of an unsafe policy..." And some other channel will be looking for physical damage. "We were the first to let you know it was poor track maintenance..."

And this grandstanding rush to judgement affects the way newspapers report on things, too. Websites with instant stories posted add to the fuel.

I don't know what happened. I wasn't there, and the news media isn't helping. I suppose I could go to all the TV station websites, and all the newspaper websites and read all the articles on the subject. I could then eliminate any "exclusives" or "first to report" "factoids" as being unfounded, and only consider the "factoids" reported by multiple souces to be true. But that's still no gaurantee.

I'm going to resist jumping to conclusions about this derailment. Once the hype dies down, there will probably be more responsible reporting. But it may take more than a day or two.

Look at how many years it took to sort-out the tragic events of 9/11. And still we're hearing news agencies bragging about how they were the first to report on this or that, hoping we'll forget all the misinformation they spread in their rush to be first on every little aspect of the tragedy.

We're a long way away from hearing the real stories about the derailment. But you can bet that when the story clears, each TV station will find one sliver of the story in which they were the "first to report", while they hope we forget (and we will forget) all the incorrect things they reported.

KevinB-

How do you know when a train you're riding is passing a red signal? Do you get to ride in the operator's cab, or what?

Neal:

I usually ride in the lead car. It's a no brainer to look out the front left side window or the door window and see what's ahead.

I'm just a naturally curious guy and I like to see if the delay is a train in front or us or signals. I can always count on a delay in my AM commute on the SB Red line.

You can clearly see the signals ahead, especially in the tunnel.


KevinB

"I saw an AP headline yesterday about ours--something about "another Chicago derailment". Quite a rep we've got these days!"

Ha ha, I thought the same thing. My parents live in Idaho and my mom called me yesterday to make sure I was OK.

Mike...

LOL. I love moms. The slightest possibility that you might have been on the far south side of the city riding an el train at that time of day at that particular moment and they call to make sure you're OK.

"I heard that a bus hit a parked car on Narraganset... are you OK?"

I have no idea why Dude made that comment about moms directed at me. Confusing.

"How many among us can say that in 31 years we've never missed a stop sign while driving?"

Doing that is dangerous enough. Doing that as a train operator, responsible for all the lives aboard the train? Unacceptable. I don't know any other way to put it. If he is found responsible, I hope he is fired.


I thought I saw a picture yesterday (a video capture maybe) of a train car, which appeared to be in CTA livery balancing precariously off the el structure. Could that be correct?

Mike, that comment was meant for lower-case mike. The comment right above my original one.

"I thought I saw a picture yesterday (a video capture maybe) of a train car, which appeared to be in CTA livery balancing precariously off the el structure. Could that be correct?"

Nope.

None of the close up pictures or video showed either car anywhere near to "balancing precariously". They were both completely on tracks, though not necessarily the tracks they were supposed to be one.

So some photoshop work was done then, hmmm...

I think that was the previous one that happened in 1997 or so. I saw it too, there were 3 pics, the latest, the blue line fiasco and that one.

KevinB

Dude,

Ha ha, word. Ya gotta love moms. Another mom thing: saying "be careful" when the offspring doing anything remotely outside their normal routine -- like going camping or flying to Philly. I always say things like, "Mom, I'm more likely to get run over by the Clark bus than mauled by a bear at Kickapoo State Park."

Start wearing a hard hat when walking around downtown. With these derailment & equipment issues, the elevated tracks will be raining down cars...15 ton cars.

Sure they have solid Powerpoint skills, but unfortunately no operational skills...Huberman and his crew need to go. It's bordering on criminal.

Aye is corn-fused by the first sentence. How many major CTAs are there? Are there any minor ones? We may not even know about all of them.

ebob: Thanks for being my editor. I left out the word "Accident," which I have now fixed.

the mom thing is great! However, my mom knows that I wander the L at random, and she doesn't really know which line is which, so she could have legitimately thought I could have been involved. =)

all i can think on this is that for some reason my gut is telling me it probably wasn't the motorman's fault. just a hunch, but let's see ... the CTA has been effin' up big time lately and probably can't take another huge PR hit re: its horrible infrastructure. definitely gotta make this guy/woman a scapegoat. that's just my suspicion on this one.

"10 injured after CTA bus hits parked car on West Side

Tribune staff report
7:07 PM CDT, May 31, 2008 "

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-bus-crash_web_01jun01,0,6566275.story

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