Upon the conclusion of an investigation into the March 2014 train derailment at the Chicago Airport, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and federal investigators determined multiple parties should share the blame. The Blue Line accident occurred at approximately 3 AM in the morning. Authorities concluded driver fatigue likely played a role in the accident after determining the operator was exhausted from working 12 straight days in a row.
In the eight car accident, 32 individuals on board suffered serious injuries when a commuter train derailed at O’Hare International Airport. Eyewitness accounts and video recordings indicate that the train was traveling at too fast a speed while approaching the “end of line” train station. At the accelerated speed, the commuter train never stopped in time to avoid a shock absorber “bumping post” positioned at the end of the train tracks.
Before coming to a complete stop, the train crashed into a platform after scaling an escalator that provided ingress and egress to the underground station. The early morning timing of the accident likely played a crucial role in saving many lives and casualties. This is because the active station at the airport is typically heavily congested with travelers and employees at busier times of the day.
Though reports are not clear as to how many individuals were traveling on board when the collision occurred, seven individuals were treated at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital (Park Ridge) for whiplash injuries. None of the injuries were life-threatening. All injured passengers taken to the hospital were released within hours after the accident.
An Ongoing Problem
The investigation concluded that the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) should share some of the blame. Investigators have recommended the need for additional safety procedures and equipment. These include installing advanced technology control systems that can apply the commuter train’s braking system automatically. The newly installed equipment could prevent a crash if the operator fails to take action.
This is not the first time the Chicago Transit Authority has had to deal with a serious train accident with injuries. In September 2013, a Blue Line train collided into the back of another train while entering a station in a Chicago suburb. That accident caused injuries to more than four dozen commuters.
Almost immediately, at least one negligence lawsuit was filed against the CTA in Cook County court. The 23-year-old plaintiff Delila Jefferson suffered injuries in the derailment while commuting to her airport job as a security officer. Ms. Jefferson suffered serious back and neck injuries and a broken foot. The negligence personal injury lawsuit seeks financial compensation of more than $50,000 to cover losses, damages and suffering.
The Need for Safety Improvements
While the NTSB is not given regulatory authority, it investigates pipeline and transportation accidents. Just two months prior to the March 2014 CTA train derailment, the National Transportation Safety Board released its recommendations on the most needed safety improvements. Their recommendations came on the heels of a New York commuter train derailment that occurred at the end of 2013, killing four passengers. The U.S. investigative agency advised making improvements in transit safety as one of its highest priorities.
In December of that year, a commuter train derailed on the New York Metro-North Railroad, causing significant injuries to passengers on the train along with rail workers. The agency still maintains open recommendations involving the 2009 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority crash between two trains. The accident killed nine individuals. Investigators concluded that the collision was a result of a failing automatic train operating system.
It is the advice of the National Transportation Safety Board that transit agencies and operators adopt effective programs known to be beneficial in the airline industry. These programs include encouraging every employee to report any safety issue or hazardous condition without fearing punishment. This effective tool helps gather data necessary to spot any shortfall before it causes a catastrophe.
In addition, members of the safety board continue to recommend installing positive train control systems that automatically take control of the train to stop it any time the system senses a an approaching collision. This type of system also eliminates the possibility of the train traveling at too fast to speed.