CHICAGO (AP) —
An emergency track-side braking system activated but failed to stop a
Chicago commuter train from jumping the tracks and barreling to the top
of an escalator at O'Hare International Airport, a federal investigator
The events that
led to Monday's accident, which occurred around 3 a.m. and injured more
than 30 passengers, might have begun with the train operator dozing off
toward the end of her shift, according the union representing transit
workers. But Tuesday's announcement that a piece of emergency safety
equipment might have failed was the first indication the accident could
have been caused by human error and mechanical failure.
Transportation Safety Board investigator Ted Turpin said a preliminary
review showed the train was traveling at the correct speed of 25 mph as
it entered the station. Investigators said they have not yet determined
whether the operator ever applied the in-cab brake.
Turpin, who is
in charge of the investigation, said an automatic emergency braking
system located on the tracks was activated but failed to stop the train
as it burst onto the platform.
Turpin said of the emergency system. "That's all we know factually. Now,
whether it did it in time or not, that's an analysis that we have to
A team from the
NTSB was also exploring how rested the train operator was before
starting her shift and whether rules governing overtime had been
violated, after a union official suggested she might have dozed off.
They planned to
interview the train operator Tuesday afternoon.
"We're going to
ask probably the operator how they felt ... because we always take into
consideration the fatigue factor. It's one of the things we do
investigate," Turpin said.
whom officials have not identified, was off duty for about 17 hours
before starting work around 8 p.m. Sunday but had recently put in a lot
of overtime, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 President Robert Kelly
"I know she
works a lot — as a lot of our members do," he said. "They gotta earn a
living. ... She was extremely tired."
Kelly said the
operator took standard drug and alcohol tests after the derailment and
that she assured him they were not an issue.
she may have nodded off, Kelly responded: "The indication is there.
investigators hoped to turn the scene over to local officials later
Tuesday to begin removing the train from the escalator at the
underground Chicago Transit Authority station.
The train is
designed to stop if operators become incapacitated and their hand slips
off the spring-loaded controls. Kelly speculated that, upon impact,
inertia might have thrown the operator against the hand switch,
accelerating it onto the escalator.
officials refused to discuss what other safety mechanisms are in place
around the transit system while the investigation was ongoing.
regulators keep a close watch on longer distance, city-to-city passenger
rail and freight operations. But federal safety oversight of transit
systems within cities has been weaker, and responsibility for any
technology to prevent crashes and control speeds has been left to local
efforts to grant a safety oversight role to the Federal Transit
Administration, which has primarily been a funding agency, said Sean
Jeans-Gail, vice president of the National Association of Railroad
Passengers, a Washington-based advocacy group.
meantime, local transit agencies like Chicago's make their own choices
about how to spend scarce funding, juggling the needs of safely
maintaining systems that are a century old in some places with pressure
to expand systems to meet demand.
going to be a tension, but it's a tension that becomes more pronounced
when there's not a healthy level of investment in both maintenance and
... capacity expansion," Jeans-Gail said.
have also been scrutinizing the train's brakes, track signals and other
potential factors while reviewing video footage from more than 40
cameras in the station and on the train, Turpin said.
remained closed Tuesday, and CTA buses took passengers to and from
O'Hare to the next station on the line. Transport officials have not
said when full Blue Line service will resume at O'Hare.