CHICAGO (CBS) – Federal investigators said the CTA Yellow Line crash that resulted in dozens of injuries might have happened because of a design problem that prevented the train from stopping before striking snow equipment on the tracks.
During a press conference on Saturday afternoon, Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the investigation team determined the design problem made it so the braking distance the train had was 1,780 feet, about 1,000 feet shorter than newer systems.
Investigators did not detect any obvious errors on the part of the driver, who was slowing the car at the time of the crash. The CTA knew the equipment was on the track ahead of the train and they were trying to stop.
Homendy stressed the findings she shared on Saturday were preliminary and that more investigation needs to take place. A final analysis will take months to complete.
"The braking distance should have been longer," Homendy said, referring to the CTA's system. "A brand new system today, with the same track, they should have had 2,745 feet to stop that train ... not 1,780 feet. That is a design problem."
She said more modern design systems allow for longer stopping distances, especially as trains have gotten heavier with more passengers.
"Really surprising that these tried and true older cars have a design specification flow that for years we've been operating with perhaps, unsafe stopping distances," said Joe Schwieterman, a professor at DePaul University and an expert in the field of transportation. "This, you know, just shows how we constantly need to be vigilant about these new risks, because this was a lot of injury here."
Homendy said the Yellow Line train was traveling at 26.9 miles per hour at the time of the collision with the snow fighter locomotive. Investigators looked at video footage from multiple cameras.
She also said there were six employees on the snow fighter locomotive at the time of the crash and that the equipment was on the tracks for planned training.
Homendy also mentioned an issue with residue on the track as the train tried to stop, which caused the wheels to skip.
She added that the audio that appeared to show some were aware of the snow equipment on the tracks was a warning not for the train that ultimately crashed but for the one trailing it.
they didn't recall any squeeling brakes, whistles, or sirens.
NTSB officials said it's unclear how much of the CTA system might be operating under the old design, but they stressed they believe the CTA is still as a whole, a safer option than driving.
In all, 38 people on the CTA train were hurt. There were 31 passengers and seven CTA employees on the train. A total of 23 were sent to area hospitals, some with serious injuries.
Investigators said it was still unclear when the Yellow Line would resume operations in that section of the system.
CBS 2 has reached out to the CTA for comment but has not heard back.
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