Train operator dozed off before crash at Chicago's O'Hare: NTSB

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 26, 2014 1:12 PM

By David Bailey

(Reuters) - The operator of a passenger train that tore across a platform and scaled up an escalator at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport early on Monday has admitted she dozed off and did not wake up until the crash, a federal investigator said.

The operator had been running trains for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) for about 60 days and had been admonished in February for falling asleep and slightly overrunning a station, Ted Turpin, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said on Wednesday.

"This time she woke up when she hit," said Ted Turpin, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, referring to the crash at 3:00 a.m. CDT (0800 GMT) Monday at the end of the line at the O'Hare station.

The operator had started work the previous night at about 10:00 p.m. CDT, and was on the fourth of five scheduled round trips operating the electric, elevated train, Turpin said.

He said the operator told investigators she had dozed off before the train entered the airport transit station "and did not awake again until the train hit close to the end of the bumper."

More than 30 people on board sustained injuries in the crash that were not life threatening, and attorneys have started to file lawsuits on behalf of some of the passengers who were hurt.

The NTSB has said the train was traveling at about 26 mph when it entered the station, and tripped an emergency braking system beside the track before the crash.

Turpin said the NTSB would examine the mechanisms in place for emergency braking and the permitted stopping distance, and was trying to look at station-design plans and other details.

The trip stop that activates the emergency braking is 41 feet from the bumper, Turpin said. Investigators have not determined what speed the train was traveling at the time of impact, or how well the braking worked, he said.

The NTSB has released the crash site to the CTA, which will be responsible for removing the cars and restoring the damaged facilities, Turpin said. Damage to the rail cars alone was estimated at $6 million, he said.

CTA didn't say how soon the rail cars would be removed or service restored.

A security video circulating on YouTube shows the train hurtling into the station, plowing over a bumper at the end of the line and rolling up stairs and an escalator.

Turpin said the operator, whom he did not identify, was forthcoming with investigators. She was interviewed on Tuesday, as were a CTA trainer and administrative manager who schedules operators.

Monday's crash was the second in recent months involving an apparently out-of-control CTA train. In September, an unmanned CTA train ran loose onto active tracks and collided with a standing train at a suburban Chicago station during the morning rush hour, injuring at least 33 people.

Separately, after a deadly derailment of a New York commuter train late last year, an engineer told investigators he became dazed and lost focus before the train, traveling at nearly three times the 30-mile-per-hour speed limit, hurtled off the tracks near the end of its run. Four people died and more than 70 were injured.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Bernadette Baum)