Preliminary report released by NTSB on derailment at Blue Line station

A sensor for an automatic braking system was too close to the end of the track to prevent a crash at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, according to a preliminary federal report released Monday.
April 7, 2014 3:21:28 PM PDT
A preliminary report was released Monday by federal safety experts investigating the Blue Line crash at O'Hare Airport last month.

CTA Blue Line train derailment photos

The National Transportation Safety Board says the train was traveling too fast for the emergency brakes to work. The crash caused more than $9 million in damage to the train and the O'Hare station.

In the preliminary report from the NTSB, perhaps most noteworthy is that investigators say they've determined that the crash train was going 26 miles an hour when it hit an emergency braking arm. So there appears to have been little braking at all, by man or machine.

The trip from the Rosemont stop to O'Hare takes about five minutes. As elsewhere, if the train operator exceeds prescribed speed, there is an audible beep in the cab that means throttle back.

As she entered the tunnel to the O'Hare terminal, the operator told the NTSB that the last signal she recalled seeing was yellow over red, which means the next signal would require her to stop. It is apparently at that point that train operator Brittney Haywood falls asleep.

The NTSB says when the train hit the last trip arm, which is supposed to activate emergency braking, the Blue Line run was going 26 miles an hour. Haywood told investigators that she woke up when the train hit the last trip arm. That would seem to suggest that Haywood didn't just doze off, but had fallen into full sleep.

Kelly says the operator, who was fired Friday, has been made a scapegoat, and whatever human failure occurred, he suggests design flaws were key factors.

This is the last trip arm before the bumping post. Since the crash, it has been moved further out, but the day of it was only 40 feet from the end, raising questions about necessary stopping distance. Also, at the O'Hare terminal there are three pockets where trains pull in to the station. The center pocket, where 141 derailed, has, according to Kelly, fewer signals than the other two, therefore, less emergency braking mechanisms. Had the Haywood train entered another pocket, he says, the derailment might not have happened.

When the NTSB writes its probable cause report, and that's many months off, there will likely be a variety of factors that all contributed to causing the crash. The CTA has already slowed train speed entering the O'Hare terminal.

It is changing work schedules for train operators while not conceding that Haywood had insufficient rest. Kelly says the union is prepared to grieve her firing, but is waiting for direction from Haywood.


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