Chicago Transit Agency Receives Less Than Glowing Safety Review
By Gerri Elder
A personal injury lawsuit was filed by more than 100 Blue Line passengers against the Chicago Transit Agency in connection with the train derailment and fire in the Loop during July 2006.
Personal injury lawyer Dan Kotin represents many of the victims who were injured and told WMAQ News in Chicago that the Chicago Transit Agency refused to admit liability for the train crash.
Kotin also says that negotiations with the agency were broken down and a settlement could not be reached. He argued that unless the agency could prove that the train derailment was caused by an act of God or an independent third-party act, they were liable for the injuries of the passengers.
By January 2007, the Chicago Transit Agency admitted that they were at fault and liable for the train derailment and announced that they had fired five workers as a result of the crash. A Cook County judge also ruled that Chicago Transit Agency officials were to blame for the derailment, clearing the way for negotiations about the amounts of the settlements they would pay the victims who were injured.
In April 2008, the agency settled a personal injury lawsuit filed by an 85-year-old woman who was seriously injured in the train derailment and agreed to pay a $1.25 million settlement. Most of the other personal injury cases against the Chicago Transit Agency are still pending.
The Regional Transportation Authority's (RTA) triennial review, conducted last August but publicly released in June 2007, indicated that the Chicago Transit Agency trains are safe enough for passengers to use as transportation, but that many upgrades are necessary and should not be delayed. The RTA has oversight authority over the Chicago Transit Agency and evaluated 14 key areas during an on-site safety review of the agency's rail system.
The RTA audit concluded that the Chicago Transit Agency is performing poorly in identifying hazardous conditions leading to train accidents and the agency should take "more rigorous" corrective action in the interest of safety.
The Chicago Tribune reported that between January and mid-August 2007, there were 13 train derailments and five train collisions in Chicago Transit Agency rail yards. During the RTA's on-site review, another accident happened when two trains collided in front of a passenger platform. The trains were being coupled when the accident happened, a practice that the RTA advises should never be done in the passenger platform area.
The safety review also found that the Chicago Transit Agency's construction safety performance on the $530 million Brown Line is sub-par and that the agency is not conducting as many emergency response drills as it should.
In June, the Chicago Transit Agency submitted a status report to the RTA outlining the corrective actions it has taken so far and indicating that in some instances it disagreed with the findings of the RTA audit. In other instances, the Chicago Transit Agency said it simply does not have the money to make the recommended changes. The RTA has rejected the status report and called it unacceptable.
The RTA safety board found that the 2006 Blue Line derailment that is the subject of the personal injury lawsuits against the Chicago Transit Agency was caused by a misalignment of the rails west of the Clark/Lake stop. The gauge of the rails had widened due to poor track maintenance and lax inspections, and this problem caused the trail to derail.