When you drive in Chicago’s rush-hour traffic, you know you need to stay alert to avoid an accident with drivers who are sleepily chugging coffee on their way into work or tired after a long day. However, when you’re riding the train, you probably don’t think about drowsy drivers much at all. Unfortunately, though, your ride on a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) or Metra train could be more dangerous than you bargained for. Just like on the roads, Chicago train commuters face the risk of being involved in accidents caused by negligent operators who may be overworked, fatigued, or asleep at the controls.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has estimated that one-third of all transportation accidents are related to operator fatigue, and a 2014 accident at the Blue Line station at O’Hare International Airport raised a lot of questions about the CTA’s scheduling policies. The Blue Line operator admitted to falling asleep at the controls after her 12th straight day of work, which included both day and night shifts. Because the sleepy operator did not hit the brake, the train failed to slow down as it entered the station, jumped over an emergency bump-stop, and ended up traveling onto the platform and a nearby escalator.
While there are serious questions about why the CTA’s automatic braking system failed to stop the train in time, it seems clear that the operator’s fatigue was a major factor in the accident. While the station was relatively empty when the accident took place around 3 a.m., the accident still caused injuries to more than 30 passengers and over $9 million in property damages. If the train had barreled into the station just a few hours later, when the station was filled with rush-hour commuters, it could have been a catastrophic event. The Blue Line accident led to a federal investigation and review, which made it clear that it was time for some changes in the city’s commuter rail systems.
Train operators often work overtime hours and split shifts, which can contribute to drowsiness. While the operator in the 2014 Blue Line accident may not have gotten enough rest in her personal time, the NTSB says that her schedule with the CTA is also likely to have contributed to her fatigue. Following the accident at O’Hare, the Blue Line operator was fired, and the CTA made several changes to its scheduling policies and emergency safety plans that included:
Metra and other rail services have also been involved in dangerous accidents and near-accidents in the past, prompting similar pushes for change. But even with the addition of potentially life-saving policies, operator fatigue can still be a problem.
The CTA, Metra, and other rail operators have a duty to keep passengers safe, and this means that operators need to be awake and alert when they’re at the controls. Operating a huge passenger train through busy stations and crossing areas isn’t easy, and operators need to be rested enough to pay attention to the task at hand and react if something goes wrong. It only takes a moment of “nodding off” or slowed reaction time at the controls to cause a tragedy.
Millions of people use the CTA and Metra each day to get around in Chicagoland, and it is up to the public transit authorities and operators to prioritize passenger safety. If they don’t, and someone gets seriously hurt as a result, then they may be held liable for the price of the victim’s injury.
When passengers are injured in a CTA or Metra accident caused by a sleepy or negligent operator, it can be extremely difficult for them to find out about their rights and protect themselves. There may be several parties who are potentially at fault, and it can be difficult to find out what happened or get the results of the investigation. Victims may also be contacted by rail system representatives, the insurance company, and others almost immediately after the accident, asking them to give a statement or make other decisions about their cases before they know their options really are.
This is why victims of rail accidents need to seek medical and legal help before taking any other action. Even seemingly harmless statements about the accident could be twisted and used to reduce victims’ claims, so extra care is needed until you speak with an experienced legal professional. The attorneys with the Chicago-based law firm of Lane & Lane have experience working with CTA and Metra cases, and we know how often victims are “tricked” into giving up their rights.
Don’t be tempted to take risks. If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries as the result of a fatigue-related train crash or other transportation accident, don’t speak with a representative of the rail service or sign any documents before you understand your rights as a victim. To avoid wrecking your case, contact Lane & If you have questions about how to protect yourself, we can help.