Expert: A miracle that no one died in train crash

2014-03-25 17:47
(Brian Kersey, AFP)

(Brian Kersey, AFP)

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Chicago - The crash of a Chicago commuter train that derailed and ploughed up an escalator at one of the world's busiest airports would have been far worse, and likely fatal, had it not happened how and when it did, a transportation expert says.

Federal investigators aren't saying what may have caused the Chicago Transit Authority train to jump its tracks around 03:00 on Monday, screech across a concrete platform and crash up a heavily used escalator that takes travellers and workers into O'Hare International Airport. Investigators were expected back on the scene on Tuesday.

"It is a miracle that nobody died," said Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation expert at DePaul University.

Had the crash occurred during the day, when the trains are often full and the escalator packed with luggage-carrying travellers, far more people likely would have been injured, some even killed, he said.

The crash injured more than 30 people, all of whom were on the train, though none suffered life-threatening injuries.

"A train running up a [crowded] escalator could have been a worst case scenario," Schwieterman said. "When pedestrians are hit by a train, it is usually fatal."

He also noted that jumping the track likely dissipated the train's forward movement, thus lessening the accident's severity. A more abrupt stop would have more violently slammed people into the train's seats and walls, he said.

The union representing the train operator said fatigue may have played a role in the crash in a tunnel at O'Hare, the second busiest US airport, suggesting the woman may have dozed off.

The operator, who was not immediately identified, had started work at around 20:00 on Sunday but had recently put in a lot of overtime, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 President Robert Kelly said on Monday afternoon.

Kelly said she underwent standard drug and alcohol tests after the derailment, and he said she assured him they were not an issue.

Asked whether she may have nodded off, Kelly responded, "The indication is there. Yes."

Investigators had not yet drawn any conclusions about the accident, National Transportation Safety Board official Tim DePaepe said on Monday. He said investigators planned to speak to the operator, and scrutinize the train's brakes, track signals and other potential factors.

In Monday's accident, a CTA supervisor and another worker near the top of the escalator said they saw the train enter at a normal rate of speed, about 24km/h, according to Kelly.

"The next thing they heard the sound [of impact] and the yelling and the screaming," he said.

Most passengers walked away unaided, officials said. The injured were treated at area hospitals and released.

The train operator suffered a leg injury and has been released from the hospital. Kelly described her after the accident as distraught, but still able to help passengers.

"She immediately got out of the cab and started asking everybody and checking to make sure that everybody was OK," he said.

- AP

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