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Lessons learned from Blue Line subway fire

So the good news is that just a couple people were hospitalized in serious condition after the fire and derailment of the Blue Line just north of Clark and Lake. About 120 people were taken to hospitals, so certainly it could have been much worse.

CTA President Frank Kruesi said the train motorman followed all procedures and acted quickly to lead passengers to safety. Excellent work.

But still there are some lessons to be learned here, and some precautions for the future.

  • Familiarize yourself with the placards of trains stating what to do in an emergency
  • Don't panic. Listen to the motorman. Exit quickly but in an orderly fashion. It appears passengers did just that Tuesday.
  • If you're not a member now, sign up for the CTA Alerts to get wireless alerts via text message or email. We got about 20 alerts Tuesday -- from both passengers and the CTA -- with great info about what was happening.

For the CTA:

  • Have a disaster plan in place that includes putting alternate transportation modes into place more quickly.
  • Continue to use CTA Alerts to communicate to all passengers, but find a way to expand the reach.
  • Get to the bottom of what caused this accident and FIX whatever it was. Learn from this.
  • Get other cellular companies to sign on to lease subway communication lines. Obviously, an emergency is the perfect use for cellular technology.

Let's take away some good lessons from what could have been a real disaster.


After yesterday I considered signing up for CTA_alerts, but I looked at the log and saw I would have received little actually useful information. There was alot of duplicate info, and bickering going on, basically if I was receiving all of that, and I didn't know what to do otherwise, it would have been really frustrating. Good luck to everyone that was one board, I'm sure alot of people will be saying this, but I literally missed that train by less than 10 minutes.

Regarding jtkjr's comment about bickering: That amounted to three comments out of about 30. One person made an inappropriate comment about a Fox cameraman. Another replied appropriately to knock it off. The person who mentioned the cameraman has been booted from the group.

As for the usefulness of the other alerts, I suppose it's "all in the beholder." I would say sign up and decide for yourself. If you don't like the alerts, quit the group.

I didn't need the CTA alerts because when I walked out of my office at 5:15 at LaSalle and Lake it was total chaos ... firetrucks everywhere, cops talking to each other about a "staging area," LaSalle (south of Wacker) and Lake Street (east of LaSalle) blocked off, stupid motorists blocking the intersection trying to turn north from Lake onto LaSalle, laying on their horns as if that would help and blasting through swarms of stupid jaywalking pedestrians, traffic aides adding to the chaos by waving the turning motorists through red lights while not keeping the pedestrians from crossing. Yeech.

When I approached the Clark/Lake el (I usually take Brown to Red) I heard the standard unintelligible ("Atten .... sengers on ... thbound ... urple .... green li ... periencing ... elay") announcements and saw more people than usual so I decided to skip it and go to Lake. At Lake I heard very clear announcements that O'Hare Blue Line was out of service in the Loop and those riders needed to walk to Clark/Lake for shuttles.

I'm glad everyone seems to be okay and I was impressed with the FD's, PD's and CTA's response. I heard Daley was there but hiding from the cameras. And I thought Kruesi's announcement an hour after the accident praising the motorman and talking about how smoothly everything went was a little premature, especially since (a) one of his trains (Carole Brown likened them to "1981 trucks" on her May 9 blog entry: http://ctachair.blogspot.com/) had just caught fire and could have hurt a lot of people and (b) for some reason a lot of emergency personnel initially converged at the wrong place - - LaSalle and Lake.

I wasn't on that train for several reasons.

I left work late.

I'm currently entertaining myself with trying to get home from work by going the various round-about ways suggested by the CTA's trip planner. So, yesterday, I tried taking the Grand street bus to the Damen bus.

I took an hour and ten minutes, primarily because it took about 30 minutes to get through the Milwaukee/Grand/Halsted intersection.

But here's what disturbed me. All the passengers and the bus driver were aware that there had been a serious accident. A triage area had been set up at that intersection.

It seemed a little off to me that the bus driver kept screaming at other drivers to get moving through the intersection. She seemed really, really furious. At one point, she blocked off the entire intersection with her bus for several minutes trying to push her way through. This was an intersection being used heavily by emergency personel. Fire trucks and ambulances kept trying to get through. While I understand that there might be some pressure on drivers to stick to their schedules, it seems to me that being late yesterday would be forgiveable and that this was rude and dangerous.

I got home safe, and, for that, I'm grateful.



From what I've read in the news, I can't figure out how the motorman did "exactly what he was supposed to." He never made an announcement over the PA system, only by voice. So apparently the people in the back half of the train (at rush hour, a sizeable amount) had no idea what was going on and were left to fend for themselves while he led the first couple of cars' passengers to safety. THAT is doing just the right thing?

If he couldn't leave the power on long enough to make an announcement, he should have at least walked through the train and told passengers to evacuate.

I'm sorry, but I've been on too many trains where the driver doesn't bother to clue passengers into what's going on. That's part of their job, especially when it's a safety issue.

A would add to your list of lessons that the media need to learn how the CTA works.

I heard several references to the Blue Line from Lasalle to Milwaukee on NBC 5. There is no "Lasalle" station in the North Loop. Plus, Milwaukee is nonsensical on a line that has 5 or 6 stations on Milwaukee.

In a side bar, the Sun Times this morning states that the derailment and fire "involved an eight-car train with roughly 1,000 people on board." There is NO WAY there were 1000 people on that train. Sometimes it feels like 1000 people, but one 8-car train just does not have that much capacity.

Do these journalists live in the same city I live in? Their misinformation could panic or confuse people in a life or death emergency. Maybe they should park the car and take the CTA every once in while like real Chicagoans.

I took the Pink Line into Clark & Lake just as this was all going down. There was no one from the CTA there telling people NOT to head down into the Blue Line. CFD was trying to control the scene, but as other trains pulled into the station, why didn't anyone from the CTA stop the flow of people downstairs?

Did the RedEYE start the fire to show how prescient they were in their recent piece on surviving an emergency on CTA?

Even Daley and Trotter mentioned 1,000 people on the news conference a few minutes ago. My guess is that is was closer to half that amount (at the most). Although CTA communications consistently suck, I will say in defense of the motorman, that (a) there is no way he could have walked through an 8-car train to the end with smoke filling the tunnel. He told the first couple of cars to evacuate and then it looks like word mostly reached the back cars. After that he could have made an announcement but that would have required boarding the first car (with all the people filing out and past him), unlocking the door to the cabin, turning on the now battery-powered PA system and making an announcement. He was probably too preoccupied directing people out of the tunnel and by then, if there was any doubt what to do, the smoke and flames had effectively driven people in the back out.

When it comes down to it, the city, state and Fed don't kick in enough money for transit and this is the result.

holy crap, i WAS on that train but got off at western/290 because i was nic-fitting. normally i'd ride to division but i got busy at work and couldn't squeeze in my afternoon smoke.

saved by camel lights AGAIN.

I was on the train yesterday; 7th car. I saw the 8th car derail and catch fire. I never heard any announcements or directions. Just chaos for the first couple of minutes after the power went out. Then people calmed down and started going. The coachman did nothing that I could hear, and I never saw him/her. The only time I did hear someone was when we were 40 feet away from the exit.

You know, I was looking up information on this incident today and am absolutely shocked and confounded

that this is being covered up. Let's look at the facts and some simple logic: it's the busiest route (or

one of the busiest routes) of the CTA trains, it was during the peak of the evening rush hour when the

train was fairly close to the city still, the reports admit a fire and derailment of one car (more on

that later) but no other details are vague at best, there was a successful terrorist attack on a

commuter train in India the EXACT SAME DAY during the evening rush hour, it wasn't even reported right

away, the response was quite large and high profile (from a post above: "semis with 'tactical response

unit' on the sides, and then MORE firetrucks, these with 'Special Operations' on the sides of

them"--sounds like more than just a fire), the emergency teams didn't know where to go, the affected

commuters were not given instructions or told what was going on, the authorities that did report it to

other commuters merely hid the real incident/danger with generic reports, and those are just the glaring

obvious ones...

With all these facts taken into consideration, it's pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that this was a

deliberate incident and some sort of foul play was involved, terrorist or not. This was not just some

simple accident that happens all the time, as they try to make you believe by playing it down.

One of the affected commuters interviewed on TV said the first thing that came to his mind was

"terrorist attack"--because he had heard about the one in India in the morning...

Look at the derailment accident in Chicago in September last year--all five cars derailed. It's pretty

standard to have multiple cars derail in the case of a derailment, because of the nature of a

derailment. It would take a clean break of one of the cars at a single point to break off one car and

have just that car derail. Hmmm, so we're supposed to believe a fire was able to eat through the

connection of the car that derailed (in a very short period of time, no less--remember, the entire route

isn't that long, the train had recently left the city (think maximum collateral damage) and no one even

attempted to put it out?

I myself was on Lake Shore Drive going Northbound at ~6:30 PM and witnessed plumes of white smoke around

the buildings of Michigan Ave--I'm still not sure what the hell that was. Maybe it was just low-hanging


I drive on Lower Wacker Drive for my morning and evening commute--the next morning the lights were

completely out in one specific stop on Lower Wacker Drive. Now, let's apply some common sense for a

minute and think about what it takes to take out traffic lights (there was no storm that day)... I don't

know about you, but I just can't fathom a fire/derailment of a single train car taking out a set of

traffic lights near Michigan Ave.

I'll end the post with this: do your own research, connect the dots, ask questions, look into these

stories and don't just accept bullshit excuses as reality. We have been attacked over and over since

9/11 but the authorities don't want to admit it and expose just how bad of a job they are doing and how

powerless they really are against this sort of thing. Call me crazy, but I'm not stupid.

I'm just glad I'm moving to the suburbs.

Me too!

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