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Chicago Derailment Prompts Shutdown

A section of the city's transit system was shut down after a derailment and fire forced commuters to evacuate a smoke-filled subway line. Terrorism was not suspected, officials said.

Chicago Fire Commissioner Raymond Orozco said 152 passengers were transported to 12 hospitals, primarily to be treated for smoke inhalation, and 33 people refused treatment at the scene. Many were considered to be in good or fair condition, officials said, but at least one hospital reported two patients in critical condition.

Officials said it was too early to say what caused the derailment. Chicago Transit Authority president Frank Kruesi said the National Transportation Safety Board had been contacted and investigators were en route to the scene.

The last car of an eight-car Blue Line train heading to O'Hare International Airport derailed shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday, and material under the train caught fire, said Chicago Transit Authority president Frank Kruesi.

Kruesi estimated that as many as 1,000 people could have been on the train.

Hundreds of commuters, some holding hands, others feeling their way along the wall, were forced to trudge through a darkened, smoke-filled tunnel after their train derailed and caught fire.

Late Tuesday, single track service resumed on the Blue Line leading northwest out of downtown. Northbound and southbound trains were sharing the tracks. Officials warned that customers should allow extra travel time Wednesday.

Joel Johnson, 24, of Chicago, said he was on the train when "it felt like it jumped the line, and a fire started in the car behind me."

"I saw the orange flames but I didn't hear it," said Johnson, whose face and white shirt were covered in soot. "I could barely breathe."

Kruesi said the train had just left the downtown Clark and Lake station when the operator realized there was a problem and stopped the train.

The operator called for power to be cut, Kruesi said, then proceeded to lead passengers out of the cars and through the smoky subway tunnel to the nearest emergency exit, where they climbed out through a grate in the sidewalk above.

Kruesi praised the operator, who he said had been on the job for 19 months. "This thing happened the way it's supposed to happen," he said of the evacuation.

Soot-covered commuter Rita Bacon said she felt much safer after commuters were able to open the train cars' doors using the emergency release and head toward the exit.

"Everyone was just holding out their hands, holding each other's hands, feeling their way along. It was pitch black in places, but there were signs in the tunnel that said, '500 feet to the exit, 250 feet to the exit,' so I felt much better."

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