In Wake Of Blue Line Crash, Feds Want Agencies To Test Trains

June 13--The investigation into the CTA train wreck in March at the O'Hare station prompted a federal alert Thursday to all U.S. rail transit systems to conduct tests ensuring adequate stopping distance of trains in emergency-braking situations.

The "urgent safety concern'' was issued by the Federal Transit Administration as the result of the ongoing probe into the collision and derailment in the early hours of March 24 in which a Blue Line train traveling about 26 mph jumped the tracks and smashed into an escalator after the train's operator dozed off, officials said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said an automated braking system activated but that it failed to stop the train before it collided with bumper posts and other end-of-line equipment. About 30 people were injured.

"Results of analysis from the accident scene indicate a discrepancy between the original safe braking design for the Chicago-O'Hare International Airport station and its sufficiency during the actual emergency event,'' the FTA safety advisory said. "This discrepancy resulted in a lack of stopping space available for the passenger train, which entered the station at authorized speed but failed to slow as required.''

The FTA urged the nation's rail transit systems to ensure enough space is available for trains during emergency braking to safely stop in terminals; to immediately evaluate automated signals and trip stops under actual operating speeds; and to resolve any deficiencies if insufficient stoppage space is identified.

"Speed restrictions, reconfiguring automatic signals and trip stops, modifying the placement of performance of bumping posts and installations, and recalculating safe braking rates are all steps that rail transit agencies can take to address this critical safety concern,'' FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan said in a letter accompanying the safety advisory.

After the Blue Line accident, the CTA lowered the speed limit of trains entering the O'Hare station to 15 mph and moved the fixed trip stop back to provide more stopping distance.

The CTA also addressed the fatigue problem common in the transit industry. The agency put lower limits on the number of hours train operators can be on duty, increased the mandatory rest period between shifts and required rail operators to take at least one day off in a seven-day period.

The CTA also fired the rail operator involved in the accident after she admitted that she fell asleep and didn't wake up until the train crashed. The operator, Brittney Haywood, 25, also admitted dozing off at the controls in February but awoke as the train pulled through a station and missed the correct stopping point, according to the NTSB.

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

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