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NTSB: Blue Line runaway train was left with power on

At least 33 people were taken hospital Monday morning after two CTA trains collided Harlem statiBlue Line west suburban Forest

At least 33 people were taken to the hospital Monday morning after two CTA trains collided at the Harlem station on the Blue Line in west suburban Forest Park. | Ashlee Rezin/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 6, 2013 6:08AM

The Blue Line train that barreled, unmanned, into an occupied train was left with the power on at a CTA repair terminal, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The train was also left in a setting that allowed the runaway train to continue moving despite emergency brakes that were applied, the federal investigators found.

“Unoccupied CTA trains are routinely left powered-up while stored and with the brake setting that would allow movement through a mechanical train stop mechanism after a momentary stop,” the NTSB wrote in a report Friday that offered safety recommendations to the CTA.

The CTA disputes that claim and will “clarify” the point in a response to the NTSB, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said.

And Steele pointed to the CTA’s proactive measures before the NTSB recommendations were released Friday.

On Thursday, the CTA sent a bulletin to all rail yard employees ordering a number of precautionary steps to ensure that train cars undergoing maintenance stay in place.

Included in the orders are requirements that battery terminals, and all power supplies, on out-of-service cars are left disconnected and the parking brakes are properly applied, Steele said.

Meanwhile, the NTSB Friday recommended the CTA review procedures for storage of unoccupied cars. And it recommends the CTA use wheel chocks or “derails,” which forces the wheels of a moving train off the rail.

“The NTSB believes that had a wheel chock and/or a derail been in use at the Forest Park Terminal, the train could have been stopped before it entered mainline track and the accident could have been prevented,” the agency wrote in its report.

The Monday morning crash at the Harlem station injured 33 passengers, according to the NTSB.

Not only was the train left powered, but it was left in a setting that allowed the train to continue moving despite the emergency brakes.

The train traveled nearly one mile, downhill through five “mechanical train stop mechanisms,” according to the NTSB.

“The emergency brakes were applied and the train was momentarily stopped several times by the mechanical train stop mechanisms as it proceeded to the Harlem Station. Following each stop, train movement resumed because the master lever on the operator console had been left in a setting that allowed the train car brakes to recover and reset from the emergency brake application and proceed through a mechanical train stop mechanism after a momentary stop,” according to the NTSB.

NTSB investigators are still working on the case. A probable cause of the accident has not yet been determined, the agency said.

The NTSB also sent a safety recommendation to the Federal Transit Administration in the wake of the CTA crash. It’s asking the FTA to issue a safety advisory to all rail transit agencies asking them to review their own procedures for storing unoccupied cars.

Email: bschlikerman

Twitter: @schlikerman

Contributing: Rosalind Rossi

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