CTA riders are already fed up with dirty vehicles, slow service, “ghost buses” and crime. If the transit agency wants to keep its eyes on retaining loyal riders, it can’t operate on the runway it’s teetering on.
The final setback concerns security, or lack thereof. A Yellow Line train collided with a snowplow near Howard Station on Thursday, injuring 38 people.
Authorities have yet to explain why the train was on the same track as the maintenance equipment.
The National Transportation Safety Board, as part of its investigation, is also trying to determine why the train’s wheels skidded even as the operator was braking and whether debris on the tracks played a role in the crash.
What was immediately clear to the NTSB was that the operator needed more time to brake than the train was designed for. This “design problem” is a key factor that led to the collision, NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy told reporters, citing the agency’s preliminary findings over the weekend.
The Skokie Swift train, traveling at 26.9 miles per hour, should have been able to stop within 1,780 feet of the object in its path — the snowplow — but it didn’t.
The problem is that the CTA used typical stopping distances for older trains that don’t reflect the newer, heavier L cars, Homendy said. “This is essentially an old project,” she said.
The train that crashed Thursday needed 2,745 feet to stop.
The NTSB could take several months to provide its full report on the wreck, meaning it will take some time before recommending specific design changes to the CTA.
This does not mean that the CTA will necessarily follow the NTSB’s guidance.
Nearly 15 years ago, the NTSB recommended positive train control for all rail systems across the country and most notably to the CTA in 2014 after a Blue Line train crashed into the O’Hare Airport terminal.
Positive train control automatically stops a train if it transmits a signal or slows it down if it is speeding. The system has been made mandatory for some rail systems, such as Metra and Amtrak. The CTA was granted an exemption.
It’s reasonable to wonder whether the system could have prevented the Yellow Line crash.
The CTA has said very little about last week’s wreck. Even so, the incident is set to become another example of the transit agency’s woes, highlighting its shortcomings and failure to implement the latest technology.
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