CTA fires 2, suspends 2 in runaway Blue Line train crash
BY TINA SFONDELES Staff Reporter November 1, 2013 7:54PM
Scene of CTA train collision at blue line Harlem stop in Forest Park, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. | J.Geil/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 3, 2013 6:15AM
The CTA has fired two electrical workers and suspended a rail union switchman and a rail car yard cleaning supervisor following the runaway Blue Line train crash that sent 33 CTA riders to hospitals on Sept. 30, CTA officials said Friday.
The two electrical workers were fired for allegedly using “improper techniques to clean [an] electrical junction box” on one of the cars and for allowing water into electrical components, spokesman Brian Steele said in an email.
The switchman, a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308, was suspended for three days for allegedly leaving the train powered up for 48 hours and failing to notify a supervisor that the train was powered up, Steele said Friday.
And a rail car yard cleaning supervisor at the CTA’s Forest Park repair terminal was suspended for two weeks, but the CTA did not explain why on Friday evening.
On Sept. 30, the out-of-service, unmanned train left the Forest Park service yard and traveled east past the Forest Park station to the Harlem station at an estimated speed of 20 mph. Then it hit the train filled with 40 passengers at the Harlem station.
But union spokesman Robert Kelly, who said he assisted the National Transportation Safety Board investigators, said the switchman and other rail employees answered questions truthfully and should not have been punished.
“None of them did anything wrong, not one of them,” Kelly said.
The NTSB’s preliminary report on Oct. 4 revealed that the train was left with the power on at the Forest Park repair terminal, and was also left in a setting that allowed the runaway train to continue moving through mechanical train stop mechanisms after a momentary pause.
In its report, the NTSB acknowledged that “unoccupied CTA trains are routinely left powered-up while stored.” Kelly echoed the report, saying that switchmen have been taught to leave the trains running for years.
“I’m sitting here looking at the department bulletin all the way back to 2003 on how to key a train and leave it running,” Kelly said. “It’s in the bulletin used to teach people how to do that.”
But Steele said the CTA has “clarified” the issue with the NTSB: “CTA does power up trains before they go into service. The CTA does not routinely leave on trains that are in a yard for repair. The train involved was in the yard for repair. Therefore, it was not a routine policy to have that train powered up.”
Steele said the CTA sent a bulletin to all rail yard employees, ordering a number of precautionary steps, a day before the NTSB report was issued. The order included requirements that battery terminals and all power supplies on out-of-service cars are left disconnected and the parking brakes are properly applied.
The CTA also has “reiterated policies and procedures related to trains and storage,” Steele said Friday, but he didn’t provide examples.
He said the CTA will send its final response to the NTSB report on Monday.
Kelly said the suspended switchman also received a safety violation on his record and one year of probation.
“We’re fighting all of that,” Kelly said.
The cause of the accident remains under investigation by the NTSB.