Train too fast for brakes to stop crash at O'Hare: report

A CTA train was speeding at 26 mph just seconds before it hit a bumper at the end of the track at the Blue Line O'Hare Station and bounced onto an escalator March 24, the NTSB stated Monday.

The train was traveling so fast, there wasn't enough distance for an automatic braking system to stop it, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report.

Other findings included the fact the operator of the train, who admitted to investigators she dozed off while entering the station, was on her third consecutive night shift.

Chicago Transit Authority administrators said the operator, who was fired Friday, had worked 55.7 hours in the seven days prior to the accident. She told the NTSB she had worked nearly 60 hours in the same time period.

The operator, Brittany Haywood, told the NTSB "she had inadequate sleep on Saturday (and) felt tired when she started work on Sunday evening, which was just hours before the accident."

Reacting to the report, Amalgamated Transit Union President Robert Kelly said, "It shows me that it wasn't just human error that created this problem."

He said the CTA had rushed into the decision to fire the train operator, who had been hurt in the crash and is now suffering from emotional distress.

"She was involved in something that played out around the world ... she's living it every day," Kelly said.

The collision, which occurred about 2:50 a.m. March 24, sent 32 people to the hospital and caused an estimated $9 million in damage to equipment and the station.

CTA officials said Monday they had already acted to address several of the concerns arising from the crash.

The train zoomed past a safety device referred to as a trip stop, which is fixed to the track. That triggered an automatic braking system, but the train's velocity was so great "the distance from the fixed trip stop to the track bumper post was too short to stop the train," the preliminary report stated.

Regarding the operator, "the last signal she recalled seeing was a yellow-over-red signal ... which indicated the next signal would require her to stop the train," officials said.

"She awoke as the train crossed the fixed trip stop, which was just beyond the stop signal."

The CTA on Monday noted that it had lowered the speed limit of trains entering O'Hare from 25 mph to 15 mph. The train was going at 25 mph when it entered the station area and picked up speed. In addition, the agency moved the trip stop farther back from the end of the tracks.

The CTA also made scheduling changes for workers, including adding one day off in a seven week period.

Kelly said he wrote to CTA President Forrest Claypool Monday asking for a one-on-one meeting. "It's a golden opportunity to make this place safer," he said.

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