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Eyewitness account of Red Line "self-evacuation," fire

Daneel contributes this account of his fun ride to work this morning. He also made good contributions on the mess on our CTA wireless alerts network. Thanks!

(Read details of the CTA alerts sent on this mess here. Note: in the Tribune report, the CTA called it a "self-evacuation and disputed the notion of a fire. Daneel begs to differ.):


Good times on the Red Line this morning...

Boarded at Chicago station around 9:25 AM on first car. After leaving Clark/Division, train stopped for about ten minutes. Operator exited train with fire extinguisher and then came back on. Supervisor insisted operator get train moving and ordered him to run the train at 6 miles/hour which he did for about 50 ft.

At that point, the train stopped suddenly and the operator radioed a fire on the third rail. Upon hearing the radio call, myself and several passengers looked out the window and clearly SAW a small fire about 20 feet ahead of us on the third rail. The flames were yellow, not blue; it was not an arc it was a FIRE (could have been initially caused by arcing, though). You could see and smell smoke but it was not heavy in the air. The power was then removed. Operator exited car with fire extinguisher and put fire out. CTA is now claiming to the media that there was no fire which is a LIE.

We then sat there for 2.5 hours while supervisors yelled at each other walking back and forth on the tunnel ledge with flashlights. People in cars behind us were pushing the 'operator' button asking what is going on, reporting an asthma attack, and making it clear they wanted off the train now. Several announcements were made indicating the track was damaged and to stay on the train.

Conditions toward the end were BAD. No air circulating so the usual CTA train/passenger BO smells were much worse. People were smoking cigarettes (which caused some passengers to think there was another fire).

Finally, CFD came by and said we would evacuate. We all walked through the train to the last car and walked the edge of the tunnel to an emergency exit which eventually let us out a trap door at Division & Orleans.

After I got out, I was asked if I needed medical attention, which I did not. No shuttle buses available. I got on the 22 bus for Rogers Park where I work.

Overall, I would say the evacuation was poorly organized and little communication to passengers stranded and scared underground for quite a while. Good thing is no one was injured.


jesus christ...2.5 hours???? what if you had to take a piss or god forbid a crap??? gotta be my worst nightmare.

Once again, the CTA fails miserably at communicating. My sympathies to everyone on those trains. What a nightmare.

People were smoking cigarettes?

What a bunch of idiots!!! If you are trapped underground with no ventilation...cigarettes should be the last thing on one's mind. You could start (another) fire!

UGH!! I hate smokers...

What if you had to take a piss or god forbid a crap???

isn't that what the CTA car for?



10 A.M.






I submitted a letter to the Transit Board, the VP of Transit Operations, Carole Brown, and Mayor Daley this afternoon. Clips from that letter are below:

"My second point is communication between the control center and customer. On too many different occasions to count, CTA has "dropped the ball" on alerting passengers as to problems, situations, or disruptions in service. Most times passengers have no clue that they are in the midst of a situation that could very well be life or death. A good example would be this morning on the Red Line during the rail fire that occurred. A group called "CTA Alerts" that I subscribe to didn't receive an alert from transit headquarters until 11:05AM, which was approximately 95 minutes after the start of the mishap. For those individuals that are making preparations to come into the city (as I was at that particular time), 95 minutes is entirely too long. If there is a delay, whether it be 10 minutes or 3 hours, the public should be made aware of that immediately. Again, I point to Metro in DC. Not only do they have an in-house text notification system, they also use "text crawlers" on their website (http://www.metroopensdoors.com or http://www.wmata.com) to show any delays that might be happening in real time. With this information shared with the public as the event is unfolding, it can help passengers decide whether or not to take the Red Line or to take alternative transportation."

"In my experience as a fire warden, in the event of an emergency such as this, while it is true that sheltering in place works for most high rise buildings, it does not typically work for subway tunnels. Those individuals should not have been forced to wait upwards of three hours before beginning a "chaotic" evacuation, as it has been called. They should have been evacuated after 30 minutes at the absolute most.

This should be another lesson learned for the CTA to go back and retrain all emergency responders on how to properly respond to an emergency situation, by first assessing the situation, removing any passengers that may be in the way, and finally attacking the situation. Evidence shows that this was not done on today, and the CTA needs to quickly ensure that this does not happen again."

I received a read-receipt from the VP of Transit Operations, so I know he has read it. More to follow.

The one thing the CTA could do that would improve public relations the most is COMMUNICATE. They can not blame lack of communication on funding problems. People would be much more forgiving of delays if the CTA would let them in on what is happening.

I was just at the North/ Clybourn stop and it smells very strongly of electrical fire on the SB platform. I suppose it could have been construction, there were crews in the tunnel.

They could not back up the train to the station. What kind of managers are running this transit system!!!

The last time I was in the control center was 1987. I don't know if the same equipment is still in place. Back at that time, the CTA used PUNCHED TAPE to enable the green lights at terminals to set to go and set switching at night to enable a train to leave a station.

To determine where a train was located, the control center operator(those guys were terrible to deal with btw) used an ekg like machine to measure train voltage on the rails. The operator would look at the print out...kind of like ticker tape in a way...to determine where the train was. If this equipment is still in operation, I don't see it being something to easily automate.

WashMetro on the other hand was built from scratch with your federal tax dollars to server our beloved elected officials..and runs under some major buildings.

Conductors. Yes, everyone should be pouring into City Hall and don't take no for an answer. Conductors need to be placed back on the lines.

How can you expect one person to put out a track fire while at the same time respond to the public as well as the supervisor? It's not possible. As a conductor, my motorman would tell me if something was up and I would keep everyone calm in the meantime. If the power was out, I would have to go car to car and let people know what we needed them to do.

Track fires happen from time to time. It's not that big a deal unless you are near a natural gas line or the train is sitting on top of the fire. Each train car should have a charged emergency light battery to keep a minimal level of lights on. If not, that's a lack of maintenance problem.

I would also heavily COMPLAIN about the smells on the trains. There is no execuse for this. When a train is at the end of the line, the motorman has a right to refuse use of the train for ANY reason. Typically though, during the rush hour no spare are available. Off hours, we would sometimes request a new train if the one we were operating was not operational. Things like vomit and the like, anything that realy smelled was enough reason to refuse operating the train. Now it also helped to have a blue light on a car because then they would have to pull the train in. One motorman I had would either use a blue light or bad brakes to force a train to be fixed.

CTA janitors from 87/88 would only really clean the train during the taste of chicago or some other downtown event. Blue line trains were great. trains from 95th were always a mess. That might be why the Red line is even dirtier then it used to be.

With all of the polish cleaning ladies in chicago, I see NO reason why the trains are not spotless.

Another thought...have people lined up downtown at terminals and other strategic stations to collect garbage and encourage people to do so. Failure to throw out garbage could result in delays...this would help keep the trains clean.

Clearly with this incident you have another example of CTA LYING & Negligence. I've heard from at least five different people who were actually on the train and saw a FIRE (you know, with flames, smoke and everything!) Unfortunately for CTA, these guys all had either camera cell phones or digital cameras available and they took numerous pics of the actuall Fire that CTA says didn't happen. One guy was so pissed about the whole experience he said that he was going to put all of his pics (about 20)on the internet, just to "out" the CTA. The rest are keeping their pics close to the vest in anticipation of some sort of litigation against CTA.

who cares if there was a fire or not? does it really matter? CTA can deny it, or not -- it doesn't change what happened.

the point is, from what it sounds like, a bunch of impatient, frustrated passengers vacated a train themselves. i've been on a train where the driver put out a fire -- actually on the train, started by a passenger -- but it was a couple minute slowdown, and we were fine. this sounds like a bunch of jerks -- smoking on the train, pulling alarms -- causing much more of a controversy than necessary. *yawn*..

This wasn't a matter of a couple of minutes, Joe Blow. Please read it a little closer and you'll notice your experience was a little different from this one.

i've read it, and it sounds pretty non-threatening. people love to freak out and make something out of nothing, and it sounds like this was one of those cases..

i admit to being impatient (and a little claustrophobic) and i will NOT stay on any train for 2.5 hours, fire or no fire. i will self evacuate.

if there are no announcements from the train operator, i won't last 30 minutes.

The idea of adding conductors is just pure, knee-jerk foolishness. It makes no sense to add tens of millions of dollars to the agency's operational expenses for the sole purpose of increasing the peace of mind of a handful of neurotics. Conductors would come in handy (assisting with emergencies, passenger disruptions, and making runs more efficient) on at most 5% of trips, yet we'd obviously have to pay them for being present 100% of the time.

Moreover there is no guarantee that having a duo of frequently unmotivated, unskilled, uncommunicative CTA employees on trains would prove to be any more helpful or efficient than the the single person in place now. As someone who rode the el when they used two person crews, I have to say that the difference I've felt as a rider has been minimal. For all of the things CTA management has done wrong, getting rid of conductors ranks next to implementing farecards as one of the major decisions that has been hugely beneficial.

The real need isn't for more personnel, but better trained, better managed personnel who have access to the tools that will allow them to handle these situations appropriately. All the failures in the incident last week could have been remedied by better training featuring a better organized emergency plan. The CTA desperately needs to implement succinct, standardized communications protocols between front line employees and management, the CTA and emergency service providers and most importantly, between the CTA and it's customers. A single person on the train should have been able to effectively act as a lever between passengers and those involved in emergency response, while at the same time checking down on a list of safety procedures to determine whether the situation warranted an immediate evacuation.

Adding conductors would just swell the CTA headcount while providing very little in tangible day to day benefits. In fact, adding conductors would probably make the CTA LESS safe because money would be diverted from more useful expenditures, like communications equipment, more frequent training, new trains and buses with better safety features, more security personnel and equipment, and renovated stations.

To "John Paul Jones", what does tightening security on transit and adding conductors have to do with increasing transit benefits for the handicapped? I'll answer for you. NOTHING! Yet you still try to add your issue as a rider to other, unrelated issues, attempting to prompt people to equate them all. I'm getting so tired of advocates for the disabled using disingenuous, cynical arguments to continue to siphon money away from services and infrastructure that will benefit ALL riders. Despite the CTA's ongoing push to make its entire system accessible at tremendous expense, the disabled still continue to demand expensive services that only benefit them. When you ask these advocates why the disabled don't use mainstream transit options more often, they claim to feel embarrassed and stressed at the unbearable scrutiny they feel from other riders and CTA staff. They also express disappointment that it takes them too long to get from place to place. You know what? Too bad! You demanded the public foot the bill to the tune of tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of dollars to make transit accessible for all. That was a fine, noble idea. Now however, it's time to honor your end of the bargain by actually using these improvements. Stop whining, stop acting as if you're entitled to have the perfect transit experience while everyone else gets an underfunded, decaying one. From now on, all of your efforts should be about advocating improvements that result in more and better transit for everyone, not just for your little special interest group. After all, better transit for everyone means better transit for you too.

um....I think I'm gonna print out all these comments and read them on the crapper tonight....I mean can't some of you say what you gotta say in 500 words or less?

As far as that halfwit Joe Blow is concerned he needs to have his head examined if he can't understand why people might be panicked when they are trapped underground near a fire for an hour! The CTA is responsible & well paid for handling these types of situations competently and they never do. Thats why ordinary citizens always have to self evacuate. I don't supposed it ever occured to Joe Blow that if the negligent CTA could communicate to the passengers in a competent manner-- they might be able to alay some of the anxiety that causes passengers to feel the need to self evacuate--but no, I'm sure that would make far too much sense for Joe Blow and or the CTA! My guess is that Joe Blow works for the CTA is just covering for their continuing incompetence, negligence and dishonesty! Yeah right, who cares if there is a fire (The CTA thats who doesn't care) but watch them ask for millions of more dollars from Springfield, request for more fare increases and threaten to reduce CTA services all at the same time! Hey Joe Blow, who do you really work for?

Joe Blow's a contrarian troll. Just ignore him.

Mr. "take a xanax already" needs to break an ankle and see how he likes them apples.

Actually Mike, if I did break an ankle, or was otherwise hobbled yet still had some ability to travel with the help of aids, I would happily use all of the ramps, elevators and lifts that have been paid for by taxpayers as a way to access mainstream bus and rail services. Not only would I do it because I feel that I'm only entitled to reasonable accomodations that would allow me to access the same services everyone else uses, but because I wouldn't want to feel like a charity case.

What I definitely WOULDN'T DO is DEMAND a free cab service that costs the transit agency $30 per ride to serve me and only me, after rejecting the aformentioned access points because they cause some inconvenience or self imposed embarrassment. Even more, I SURE WOULDN'T make ludicrous, self indulgent arguments that play on people's emotions in order to secure special treatment. I wouldn't make absurd and cynical comparisons to the civil rights movement and figures like Rosa Parks to further my selfish agenda nor would I try to insert my issue into discussions of other, totally unrelated issues in order to prompt people to wrongly link the necessity to approve one initiative that might benefit everyone with my own that only benefits my special interest lobby.

So you're on crutches and can't put any weight on your ankle for a month. You live two blocks from Thorndale (no elevator or escalator) and work a block from State/Lake (again, no elevator or escalator). I guess if you have above-average upper body strenghth, you can hobble the two extra blocks to Granville or the four extra blocks to Bryn Mawr. Good luck with that. I was on crutches for over a month and I can tell you that one city block is quite a chore. If you exit at Clark/Lake you can't take the escalator down because there isn't one ... only one going up. But worry not. If the elevator isn't broken/covered in a homeless person's urine you'll quickly be on Lake Street where you can hobble the two or three blocks to work. Just watch all those crazy cabs.

I don't disagree that paratransit is way too costly and that some people take advantage of it. I'm just tired of people who want to lump together everyone who benefits from paratransit and the ADA as a bunch of lazy freeloaders. You must have some agenda to come across so negative and angry. Like I said, bust an ankle and see how good all those folks have got it. Or take a zoloft.

You can cherry pick a relative few locations from the nearly infinite number of destinations in the city all you want, but the reality is that the bus system is 100% accessible and the El system is getting closer to that goal everytime stations are rehabbed. See the green and brown lines as recent examples. As for maintenence issues, ask yourself why those elevators are broken and neglected. Maybe because they are scarcely used? Maybe because when the elevators break, no one is taking the CTA to task for it since they are too busy fighting for benefits only they can use.

As for being "angry and negative"; that might be the case regarding this particular issue if only because folks like "John Paul Jones" Kevin Irvine pop up on every forum about transit in this city spouting the same distortions. It's not I who has the agenda, it is they.

If you read so selectively that you missed out on the parts of my posts that endorse the building of accessible transit infrastructure while still being able to detect my "angry and negative" tone, then it's pointless to have any further discussion with you. Just so you can't miss it, "accessible mainstream transit is a very good thing." Happy?

The real issue here is that there are plenty paratransit users who have no intention of giving up their virtually free cab service, even when the CTA is 100% accessible. People like Kevin Irvine have admitted as much and it's just plain wrong. While the CTA bleeds and your average rider gets stuck with a system that's crumbling, poorly managed, and quite likely to massively scale back service in the near future, the disabled community continually plays on people's emotions in order to ensure themselves of expensive extra perks and benefits.

As someone who regularly sends out emails and letters to public officials to show support for transit, I have to say this is a subject that I barely devote any time or thought to. However, when I notice another bit of slanted blubbering from paratransit advocates in a public forum, I refuse to consent to their demands by being silent. If they sought to fight for the same benefits while expressing themselves with facts and reasoned arguments instead of using cynical emotional ploys and obfuscating their agenda within other unrelated issues, I still might not agree with them, but I wouldn't respond with the same indignation. However, I feel that people should be offended by this kind of manipulation, especially given the facts at hand.

Ok, who's gonna pay for conductors on trains? Would you all be happy with major service cuts to pay for them?

I have to agree that adding conductors is not a great idea. If you add them we will have higher fares and I'm sure NO ONE wants that. CTA has too many employee's that get paid to do nothing but sleep and eat anyway...having more on the payroll would not be an improvement.

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