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Video shows man surfing on CTA train; expert says it's dangerous and conveys lawlessness

Train surfing has led to multiple deaths elsewhere in U.S.
Train surfing has led to multiple deaths elsewhere in U.S. 02:34

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Video circulating online shows a man on top of a CTA Red Line train as the train moves next to the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Chicago Transit Authority officials said they are looking into the incident. Meanwhile, transportation experts said it is concerning – and for more reasons than the obvious one concerning safety.

The experts said such videos send a message of lawlessness – which is not good for Chicago's public transit system.

CTA trains travel at speeds up to 55 miles an hour. It is unclear how fast a Red Line car was moving as a man train surfed near the 69th Street stop on the Red Line.

Police dispatch audio indicated that the man was riding on top of a southbound train, and the operator was not aware at the time. The incident happened last week, and video was posted online.

Train surfer caught on camera on CTA Red Line 02:17

"You see a lot of stuff on the Red Line, but that right there took the cake," said witness David Jackson.

Jackson said he was in the same train car as the subway surfer.

"The train was flying, so we were just hoping he doesn't fall off in between the two cars and onto the track," he said. "Glad he didn't kill himself, because it could have been worse."

CBS 2 reached the CTA to see how they handled the incident. A spokesperson said: "Actions like this are dangerous and irresponsible. CTA will work with the Chicago Police Department to try to identify the individual involved in this illegal activity."

"It creates an image - a sense of lawlessness on trains; an anything-goes perception of the train," said Dr. Joe Schwieterman, a transportation expert and professor at DePaul University, "and that's really unfortunate."

Schwieterman said such conduct is more than dangerous and illegal.

"It goes without saying it's illegal," said Schwieterman. "It's a hazard not only to people on that train with emergency situations, but motorists who are looking at this person."

Expert says train surfing conveys message of lawlessness in Chicago 02:02

This was not the first time such behavior has been caught on video. 

Last year, someone seen riding outside a CTA train took credit for posting his joyride online. A clip from 2019 shows a man lying on a Brown Line train heading toward the Loop.

"Hugely risky for the person on the roof, but we have a problem on our rapid transit lines of unruly passengers and so forth causing massive delays on the system," Schwieterman said. "So in addition to his safety, there's a service quality dimension to this that is unfortunate for people who rely on the train."

Schwieterman said such behavior needs to be reported – and such conduct must not be tolerated.

"People have to know that when there are incidents, they see it on the platform on the train, notify CTA personnel instantly - because they of course have radio communication and can stop that train," said Schwieterman. "We see turnstile jumping. It's awkward to report that. But when you don't, things like this can happen that can create real physical risk."

Subway surfing a crisis in New York

In New York City, subway surfers were spotted hundred of times last year. Subway surfing there has become such a danger that young voices are now part of an awareness campaign urging teens to ride inside.

Last month in New York City, a teenager died while surfing on an elevated stretch of the F Train line in Brooklyn – in what has been a trend for some time.

This came four months after New York City announced a campaign to stop subway surfing as young people prepared to go back to school. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York launched a new ad campaign titled, "Ride Inside, Stay Alive."

"The consequences of these actions are not only taking lives, but ruining lives," New York City Mayor Eric Adams said in September.

Norma Nazario knows the consequences Mayor Adams was talking about. Her 15-year-old son, Zackery Nazario, died in February of last year while surfing on a subway train.

"Something needs to be done," Nazario said told CBS 2 in New York.

Zackery, a high school freshman, was surfing on a Manhattan-bound J Train that was crossing over the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. His head struck a beam on the bridge - and he fell onto the tracks was hit by another train.

"I couldn't believe it," said Nazario.

There have been numerous other incidents in which people – often teens – have fallen from moving trains and died while subway surfing in New York.

Now, public transit and city leaders there have also called on social media companies to remove train surfing videos from their platforms – accusing the apps of glorifying the dangerous stunt.

"There needs to be a national call of action on how social media is impacting the behavior and the norms of our children," Mayor Adams said in September.

Back in Chicago, CTA spokespeople, again, said they are working with Chicago Police with regard to the incident on the Reed Line. Police have not shared information beyond that.

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