FOREST PARK – Officials said nobody was at the controls of an empty commuter train that slammed into another train at a suburban Chicago station Monday, injuring dozens of commuters, but they don’t know how the train got moving.
Video footage shows that nobody was driving the 4-car Chicago Transit Authority train as it rumbled the wrong way toward the train parked at the Harlem Avenue station about 10 miles west of downtown Chicago. But investigators were trying to determine if it somehow started moving itself or if someone sent it on its way, intentionally or otherwise.
“If it wasn’t a goof or there is someone not telling us something that creates a big problem because if one train can start moving without anybody doing anything than it can happen to another train,” said Amalgamated Transit Union President Robert Kelly.
Kelly said he had never heard of a train simply starting to roll down the tracks. Not only that, but he said to start a train somebody would not only have to have a special key, but would have to know how to use it.
As many as four dozen people who were on the parked train were treated for minor injuries and released from hospitals, authorities said.
CTA spokesman Brian Steele said investigators are examining the video, the signaling systems and other data to determine what happened. He, too, said he had never heard of such an incident before. CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said the video is being turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board, which took over the lead of the investigation.
What could make solving the mystery tougher is that the train started its journey beyond the last station on the west end of the Blue Line that runs from the western suburbs, into the city and out to O’Hare International Airport.
Kelly said the train was parked perhaps a quarter mile beyond the Forest Park station, in a spot where it could not be seen by any commuters or anyone else, including CTA workers, inside the station. He said that it wasn’t until a CTA worker spotted the empty train roll through the station that there was any indication that anything was wrong.
That CTA supervisor frantically tried to contact the moving train. A few minutes later, the motorman of a westbound train that had just pulled into the Harlem Avenue station spotted the train coming at his.
“He pops the door open and walks on the platform to see where the train is going and tries to call it,” said Kelly. When he got no response, said Kelly, the motorman shouted at the riders in the first car to “brace yourself” for a crash.
Passengers on other cars did not even have time to do that.
The crash left a section of one train crushed, and resembled an accordion.