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Deadly CTA accident 30 years ago

The CTA endured one of it most horrifc hours 30 years ago Sunday, when a Lake-Dan Ryan train rounded the bend at Wabash and Lake and rear-ended a Ravenswood train waiting to pull into the State-Lake station.

180 are injured as 4 cars plunge to crowded street (Chicago Tribune article via chicago-l.org)

Eleven people were killed, and at lest 250 were injured.

From a Chicago Public Library article:

"The official report largely blamed the motorman of the Lake-Dan Ryan train. Possible contributing causes were problems with the design of the warning signals and inadequate training. The motorman had a poor safety record including such things as a prior derailment and several violations for reading while in motion. The motorman had four marijuana cigarettes in his shoulder bag, and drug tests showed he had used marijuana, but not other drugs or alcohol."

The Tribune article noted:

"AUTHORITIES SAID the crash occurred at about 5:25 p.m. when an eight-car westbound Lake-Dan Ryan train rounded the curve at Lake and Wabash and struck the rear of a Ravenswood train.

"The latter train had halted short of the elevated platform at State and Lake Streets, apparently for an Evanston Express train that was in the station. The Evanston Express normally travels in the opposite direction on another set of tracks. A CTA spokesman said earlier switching problems had caused the Evanston train to be switched onto the tracks normally used by the Ravenswood and Lake-Dan Ryan trains. The spokesman said the problem had been corrected 17 minutes before the crash."

Eerie parallels to current problems on the CTA.


I missed being crushed by the falling train by a few minutes on that fatefull day. I was a High School senior located in River North. I needed some supplies from Horders located at the time on the Southwest cornor. I crossed the street east and then headed north. Less than a half a block away, I heard the bang and the loud falling thud.

I was in shock, because a year before I was a passanger on a Blue line(it was called the Jefferson Park line then)crash at Addison where 1 person was killed. I stood there for and hour just watching all police and medical teams come and go. The thing that sticks with me is that both the injured and dead were put in the same police paddy cars to take to Northwestern Hospital.

Like the event from the past year, I was back riding on a CTA train the next day. It is the Chicago way to just get on in the city that works.

I'm sure there are others more versed in the details than me who could add to this, but I believe we, to this day, continue to feel the after-effects of this crash. The strict signaling and following distances that trains maintain can be traced in large part back to this event. Ever pull 9/10ths of a way into a station and have to sit waiting for a train far ahead to move so your train could move the 10 feet required to dock and open the doors? This and similar inefficienies caused by strict adherence to signals were put in place following this crash. My understanding is that back at the time of this crash operators had considerably more leeway in overriding signals - like having to stop first and then move forward only at a very slow speed. But the operator in this case basically screwed up so badly that even these seemingly reasonable loopholes allowed tradegy. As a result the new rules are meant to be super-idiot proof.

I think inferring this type of accident could be a forth-coming result in the near future of other, totally non-relevant factors, is unfair your readership.

What we lacked back in 1977 was full Automatic Train Control (ATC) coverage in the Loop. ATC is now in use and, as james said in his post above, rules are more strict. To define ATC...

automatic train control (ATC): wayside equipment detects the presence of trains or other speed-limiting conditions through track circuits powered by auto-frequency currents and send them through the rails commands which determine the maximum speed at which a following train may be safely operated. Equipment in the train cab compares this command with the actual speedometer reading and provides visible and audible displays to alert the motorman. If actual speed exceeds the recommended speed, the motorman must reduce speed within a short time or the equipment will engage in an emergency full stop. ATC is continuously in communication with trains, not just at a fixed point, as with ABS systems.

Motorman are also not allowed to override signals unless they inform railops and receive approval.

At the time of the crash, the second train had a "flasher 15" on the ATC, which meant he could go up to 15MPH without tripping the brakes. The NTSB report also said that power was applied even after the collision & continued to be applied for a while.
I still remember the headline of Royko the next day: "How can I go home, my mother is dead". That was a woman who was on the train with her mother, who was killed.
After this, the CTA extended ATC to the entire system, except the State & Dearborn subway tunnels, thus ending any operating "on sight", which was how most of the system ran!

Krambles' book pretty much backs up Sock Puppeteer's version, although it does not say what the indication was when the operator "proceeded under signal control at a speed less than 15 mph ...". (CTA at 45, page 116)

If I remember correctly, something similar happened a couple of years ago on the curve on the Brown-Purple lines around the church near Oak Street, where the signal was red due to a back up into the Loop, but the operator decided to disregard it. However, the cars did not fall off the structure.

I wrote CTA in 1977, asking why an operator was allowed to proceed against a presumably red indicator, and that there should have been a guard girder around the curve. The latter was eventually installed (I'm sure not because of my suggestion), but the former was never explained.

In any event, it is clear (both from my memory and Krambles' statement about "the difficulty of providing perfect protection ... even given the most sophisticated signal system then available ... where all the technical equipment functioned exactly as intended") that ATC was at that location 30 years ago.

Contrary to taking offense, I think suggesting that CTA is tempting fate with their capital and expense decisions is beyond prudent. The Brown Line Southport stop is in my backyard. Who among us did not wonder what a derailment on the elevated tracks would be like when the Blue Line incidents occurred? Was I the only person moved to anxiety seeing the helicopter shots of the Orange Line train hanging off the tracks? But, no...let's instead discuss the danger and risks to our local economy if we do not work toward airport check-in for your bags in the Loop?

I just missed that train on that Friday night. Had to stay a few minutes late at work. Always rode in the front car. What a tragedy. Still gives me the willies to think about it. Didn't know how I would get home to Oak Park. Took the Northwrstern. Didn't get home til very late. Station was jammed. Couldn't even get a phone line til late. All circuits busy. What a night!

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