32 hurt after CTA Blue Line train jumps platform at O'Hare - New York News

CTA Blue Line train derails at O'Hare, operator `tired`

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The CTA Blue Line train derailed about 2:50 a.m. on Monday at O'Hare. (User submitted photo) The CTA Blue Line train derailed about 2:50 a.m. on Monday at O'Hare. (User submitted photo)
(User submitted photo) (User submitted photo)
The CTA Blue Line train derailed about 2:50 a.m. on Monday at O'Hare. (User submitted photo) The CTA Blue Line train derailed about 2:50 a.m. on Monday at O'Hare. (User submitted photo)
Robert Kelly (Photo by FOX 32's Eddie Bartlett) Robert Kelly (Photo by FOX 32's Eddie Bartlett)
(Photo by FOX 32's Craig Wall) (Photo by FOX 32's Craig Wall)
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

There is an "indication" that the woman driving a Blue Line train that crashed at the O'Hare station had "nodded off," a union representative said at a news conference Monday.

The operator told Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 President Robert Kelly that she had worked a lot of overtime recently and was "extremely tired" at the time of the derailment.

The comment came as federal investigators began examining the accident scene to determine whether the motorwoman had contributed to the crash, among many other facts that investigators are looking at.

Fire officials said the woman was walking and talking after the accident, while passengers recounted their brief, early morning nightmare of a commute.

Dion Stokes recalled how the recorded voice on the O'Hare-bound train announced that the train had reached the final stop.

The 21-year-old West Sider stood up, but the train didn't stop.

There was a "boom," the lights in Stokes' car cut out and then, for a few terrifying seconds, chaos.

"I never seen nothing like this — this is like stuff you only see on TV," said Stokes, who was on his way to pick up his girlfriend after finishing her overnight shift at the O'Hare McDonalds.

In the confusion, Stokes had no idea that the train had left the tracks, bounced up onto the platform and plowed into an escalator. Or that 32 people would eventually wind up at the hospital, including him.

The impact threw Stokes from one side of his car — the second from the front — to the other. People were screaming.

"I could see one guy on the floor being thrown back and forth," said Stokes, who suffered a badly twisted ankle and was treated at Swedish Covenant Hospital.

Stokes said CTA officials responded efficiently, making sure those with injuries got help right away.

Authorities report the eight-car train derailed at the end of the line at 2:55 a.m. Monday, traveling faster than it should have into the station servicing O'Hare International Airport. The train was still on the tracks as of 10 a.m., as crews cut the train apart to remove the damaged portions for investigation and to clean up the debris.

Investigators have yet to determine the exact cause of the derailment, but they said the security cameras on the train will help them figure out what happened.

"We will be looking at equipment. We will be looking at signals. We'll be looking at the human factor and any extenuating circumstances," CTA spokesman Brian Steele said. "But really at this point, it's far too soon to speculate."

National Transportation Safety Board signal specialist Tim Depaepe said the NTSB's video recorder specialist will examine the footage of the derailment and help the team extrapolate the exact speed of the train at the time of the crash. He said the NTSB will find out what the allowable speed was and compare the two results to see if speed was definitely a major factor in the derailment.

The first two cars sustained damage after the cars ran up the escalator. The train did not stop at a bumping post - a metal shock absorber at the end of the tracks. Thankfully, no one was on the platform at the time.

CTA rider Denise Adams told FOX 32 News that she heard a loud "boom!" at the time of the incident and people on the train panicked. It wasn't clear how many people were on board at the time of the crash, but that it took place during what is "typically among our lowest ridership time," Steele said.

Twelve ambulances were sent to the scene. Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Jose Santiago said 32 people were taken to four different hospitals. Santiago said most were able to walk away from the wreck unaided. They were described as having bumps, bruises, head and neck pain and "whiplash"-type injuries – all not life-threatening.

Six people in fair condition and 26 in good condition were taken to local hospitals Monday morning, Santiago said.

Resurrection Medical Center officials said 12 adults with minor injuries were treated, and all but one were released Monday morning. Eight adults with similar bumps and bruises were treated and released from medical center's nearby sister hospital.

Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago received seven patients. Seven passengers were treated at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. Most were released by Monday morning.

The train's female motorman was also hospitalized.

Depaepe said the NTSB's operations specialist will gather details on her work history, training, date of hire and other pertinent details as part of the investigation. According to the CTA, the motorwoman came on duty at 8:40 p.m. Sunday, six hours before the incident occurred.

CTA President Forest Claypool reiterated that safety is the transit authority's highest priority at the noon press conference. He said the CTA runs half a million train trips per year, and when something like this derailment happens, they want to work closely with engineers to get to the bottom of it as fast as possible.

Service was suspended between O'Hare and Rosemont after the derailment, though bus shuttles are operating between the stations during the morning commute.

Christopher Bushell, CTA's chief infrastructure officer said it would likely be at least 12 to 24 hours before the station would reopen, and customers should expect "minor delays" throughout the day.

During five years of sleeping on Blue Line trains rolling from downtown to O'Hare and back, James Winfield has seen a lot of things — most of which he doesn't care to discuss.

But as he wandered out of Swedish Covenant — carting an assortment of shopping bags and suitcases — he admitted he'd never seen anything quite like the Blue Line crash that snapped him out of his early morning doze Monday.

He was somewhere in the middle of the train, leaning his head against the glass when he heard a noise like metal crunching into metal, he said.

"I heard a loud noise and a jolt ... People were hollering," he said. "People were scrambling, trying to get off the train."

But Winfield was not one of them. He said he didn't panic.

"I was very relaxed," said Winfield, 60. "I thank God. The good Lord took care of everything."

He said he hurt his back in the crash — but not too seriously.

"Swedish Covenant was nice — they gave me some ibuprofen," he said, gathering up his belongings and looking for a way back downtown.

At O'Hare, visitors towing suitcases gaped at the scene Monday morning, with several stopping to take pictures.

Though the Blue Line station had been taped off and a grate had been lowered to keep people away, the train could still be seen from the walkway — until CTA crews hung a gray tarp to block the view.

"That was, like, the show of the day," said Reginald Conyers, a street musician whose trumpet concerto had to compete with the derailed train for attention Monday morning.

"If I got that attention, I would be paid and I would go home early," Conyers said.

Leslie Wolfe said she'd planned to take the Blue Line until she saw the morning news.

Instead she found herself taking a cellphone picture of the scene — and explaining what happened to people walking by.

"It's kind of crazy," she said.

Some of the riders on the train were thankful after the accident that the outcome wasn't worse.

As Stokes stood outside Swedish Covenant, enjoying a smoke and propped up on crutches, he was simply relieved he wasn't more badly injured.

"I'm just glad ... Nobody was killed," he said, before hobbling away down the street.

Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation expert at Chicago's DePaul University, said the straight-ahead derailment helped dissipate energy. The fact that the train jumped the tracks and then scaled the escalator, rather than make an abrupt stop, may have actually saved lives. A more abrupt stop would have allegedly slammed people more violently into seats, polls and walls inside the train.

A six member team from the NTSB is actively working every aspect of the train derailment incident. Each member is a specialist who will focus on one single aspect, such as mechanical, signals, track, and of course the human element with the motorwoman.

The CTA has no positive train control system in place to automatically slow down the train if it's going too fast. That's something controlled by the train operator.

However, there were video cameras at the station, as well as an outward facing camera on the front train car. That evidence, combined with signal points in the track, will allow the NTSB to determine how fast the train was actually going before the crash.

The eight car train weighs about 200 tons, so the inertia, combined with the speed, carried it past a bumping point. It bounced up on the platform and continued up an escalator before coming to a stop.

The train has been propped up with supports, so investigators can gather all the evidence and information they need, but there is no timetable for when that will be finished.

Service is also disrupted between Logan Square and Western Monday morning because of planned track work, according to the CTA. As a result, trains are operating only in two sections early Monday:

-Rosemont and Logan Square and,

-Western and Forest Park.

In September, a CTA Blue Line train slammed into another train at a suburban Chicago station, injuring as many as four dozen commuters.

The Sun-Times Media Wire and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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