CTA disciplines 4 employees in Blue Line crash; Union Chief Robert Kelly disputes action

November 1, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The Chicago Transit Authority disclosed Friday afternoon that it has disciplined four CTA employees in connection with a crash that involved an empty runaway train. The CTA says two electricians are being fired, a supervisor of railyard cleaning is being suspended, and a veteran switchman is being suspended for three days. The specifics of why those actions are being taken is not yet fully spelled out, but at least one union leader is hopping mad.

"What's the point of going in and telling the truth if I'm going to be a scapegoat? He did nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing wrong," said Bob Kelly, president, ATU Local 308.

The union says the employee in question is an experienced switchman who readily cooperated with federal investigators and has now been given a three-day suspension without pay and put on probation for a year. The specifics behind the suspension are unclear, though it presumably centers on the runaway train being left in the Forest Park yard in a powered up mode with a brake setting that somehow allowed it to move.

Immediately after the ghost train, NTSB investigators found that "unoccupied CTA trains are routinely left powered up while stored," and that that and braking practices should immediately change.

The CTA says it did that even before being told, but that leaving trains powered up was never standard practice.

"It is not uncommon to leave a train keyed up. It's very common. CTA has taken a stance saying this has never been a practice. They're lying. They're plain flat out lying. I can march 200 switchmen in here would tell you that they do it on a daily basis," said Kelly.

What remains unclear in all this is how the runaway train could pass over five train braking devices, or "trips," five times during its mysterious mile-long journey that ended with a crash at the Harlem station.

Seven years ago after a Blue line derailment, the CTA fired a number of employees, including two track inspectors. They got their jobs back and the NTSB found that the larger problem was a track maintenance and inspection program with systemic flaws.

The CTA does say that it disciplined the switchman for leaving a CTA train powered up for 48 hours and failing to report it to his supervisor.

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