CTA announces plans to prevent runaway trains after Blue Line accident

November 15, 2013 (CHICAGO)

PHOTOS: CTA trains collide near Forest Park

After the Blue Line accident, the National Transportation Safety Board issued some urgent recommendations, that is, safety steps that should be taken right away. The CTA took some of those steps fairly promptly, and put them in written form for the safety board, which published them Friday afternoon.

Somehow the runway train on September 30 started rolling out of the Forest Park yard and even though five trip arms were able to temporarily stop the train, it kept going because the throttle had been left in a position that allowed the train to overpower the trips. The train picked up momentum going down a grade, wound up on the wrong track, and smacked into an outbound train at Harlem. No serious injuries, but a serious accident that the NTSB says caused over $6 million in damage.

The CTA tells the safety board that it's already issued the following orders: All unoccupied trains must be shut down and the motor cab locked. That means that trains are not powered up while stored or on hold for service. The CTA says the train in question was left powered up for 48 hours, even though it was simply awaiting a trip to another shop for maintenance. CTA has had a long practice of leaving trains powered up in the yard without well-defined standard operating procedures. That's now changing.

Rail cars that are "on hold" will be stored on designated yard tracks that will not be used for any other purpose. The CTA will also be regularly using "chocks" -- wheel blocks placed on the track to keep a train from moving.

Those are among the steps the CTA is taking, but there is still no explanation yet from NTSB on a couple things. If the train was sitting there powered up for 48 hours, what exactly started it moving forward, how did it end up on the wrong track, and if its movement was detected in the yard, would there not have been ways to bring it to an emergency stop before the collision?

The CTA has already moved to fire two electricians because of the accident, and has suspended two other workers, including a yard switchman. The latter employee the CTA says failed to tell his supervisor that the runaway train had been left powered up for 48 hours. Trains in service are left powered up so they're cool in summer, and warm in the winter when they're needed, but a source says standard operating procedures have been ill-defined for years, and that's part of the change.

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