CHICAGO (CBS) — 38 people were injured and 23 of them were taken to the hospital when a CTA Yellow Line train struck a piece of snow removal equipment on the tracks at the Howard station in Rogers Park.
The accident occurred just after 10:30 a.m. as the train passed through the rail yard near the Howard Street terminal above Howard and Paulina streets, according to Chicago Transit Authority officials. The two-car Yellow Line-Skokie Swift was inbound from Skokie when it struck a piece of snow removal equipment.
The fire department said there were 31 passengers and seven CTA employees on the train. All were injured and at one point more than 15 ambulances were called to the scene to treat the injured.
“Our thoughts are with all those affected and we are grateful for our brave first responders on the scene,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a statement. “We are working closely with the emergency services as we continue to monitor this incident.”
The train rear-ended a snow plow locomotive, which is used to clear the CTA tracks of snow in the winter, Chicago Fire District Chief Robert Jurewicz said.
The CTA has not explained why the machine shared the same track. When asked about that, Jurewicz said it was “a matter for the CTA.”
Chicago Fire Department officials said a total of 23 of those 38 people were taken to hospitals, including four children and seven CTA employees, and 15 others on the train refused medical treatment. Three people were taken to hospitals in serious to critical condition, nine were admitted in fair to serious condition and 11 were taken to the hospital in good condition.
CFD assistant deputy chief Keith Gray said none of the injuries were life-threatening. Most people suffered cuts, bumps and bruises with some head injuries.
The victims ranged in age from about 2 to 72 years old. A total of four small children were taken to the hospital to be checked.
A person operating the snow blower was also seriously injured, according to the fire service.
“We made sure we got all the passengers off the train,” Jurewicz said.
It was not easy to get passengers off the train. Several were carried out on stretchers.
“I’ll tell you what, it was a very tough thing for the firefighters to do because they had to go up and down these embankments — and carry people on the rocks,” Jurewicz said.
First responders had to go through an access gate, over a pair of access tracks, up over the top of a berm and down an embankment — and they still had to make sure the high-voltage tracks were cut off, CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl reported.
Some of the passengers were carried away on stretchers – by the train, which never reached its destination.
“We got them all out. Guys did a great job,” Jurewicz said. “I tell you, they really did.”
Dr. David Trotter, chief of emergency management at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, said three patients were taken to that hospital. Two of the accident victims were in fair condition, one in serious condition.
Some patients were also taken to Ascension St. Francis Hospital in Evanston near the crash site.
At Masonic, Trotter said the patients had suffered the types of injuries that would be expected in a high-speed collision.
“Anytime you have more of a high-speed collision, you’re going to have impact damage — which is something that would be expected in this case,” said Dr. David Trotter, chief of emergency management at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center. “You’re definitely going to get lacerations, contusions, things like that — and sometimes, of course, they can be more serious than that.”
It was not clear late Thursday how fast the train was traveling at the time of the collision. But anyone who rides the ‘L’ knows that there are no seat belts and people often stand – holding on to the railings.
Thus, when the impact occurred, it is safe to say that some people were thrown suddenly.
Dr. Trotter talked about the unified plan at Advocate Illinois Masonic to get all the victims treated.
“We’re just very fortunate to have great first responders. They’re the ones who are actually on the scene; able to transport patients and get them here. But communication is important,” Trotter said, “and so during that hectic time, are they still able to communicate with different hospitals, we are certainly also a coordination of treatment to ensure that all patients come to the hospitals to have the best resources that have the best resources to treat them in the best possible appropriate time .”
Late Thursday, we learned that one of the crash victims, Cleon Hawkins of Chicago, has filed a lawsuit. His attorney said what happened Thursday was “an example of a catastrophic failure on the part of the CTA to make commuter transportation safe for its passengers who depend on it,” and continued, “In this day and age, something like this never happen..”
The Yellow and Purple Line service was suspended following the collision. Red Line service was suspended between Howard and Thorndale after the collision, but resumed service around 10 p.m. 12:45 p.m. Purple Line service has also since resumed.
But Yellow Line service remained out for the rest of the day and night and was still out as of later Thursday evening. Yellow Line passengers were advised to use the #97 Skokie bus and as an alternative.
Chicago Avenue—not Chicago’s east-west thoroughfare, but the Evanston extension of Chicago’s Clark Street—was closed between South Boulevard and Howard Street in Evanston after the accident. The Evanston Fire Department said the CTA shut down power to the Red and Purple lines.
After the CTA cut power to the Purple Line, a train became stuck between stops in Evanston, and firefighters were able to safely evacuate passengers from that train.
The Yellow Line is the only CTA train line that does not run to downtown Chicago. It runs between the Dempster-Skokie Terminal on Dempster Street two blocks west of Skokie Boulevard (Cicero Avenue) in Skokie and the Howard Terminal in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. From Dodge Avenue (California Avenue) to the east, the line runs in a below-grade trench parallel to Evanston’s Mulford and Case streets before passing through the Howard Rail yard, then rising to complete its journey at the elevated Howard Terminal.
The collision occurred right at the point where Yellow Line trains enter the station from the north and west of their route, exiting the below-grade trench and entering a potentially dangerous curve, according to transportation expert and DePaul University professor Joe. Schwietermann.
Habermehl reported that the impact of the crash caused the guide wheel set on the Yellow Line train to derail. The snow removal unit also suffered some damage to its back.
Schwieterman said several factors were in place, which were at least in part. He said a piece of snow removal equipment is not normally expected to sit on the tracks during the day — since the Skokie Swift is not a 24-hour operation, such car movements are usually done at night.
There were also questions about why the motorist did not stop for the snowplow and whether the motorist did not respond. There were recordings that indicated radio calls went out and there was no response, Schwieterman said.
“There were several things that happened here that led to a really devastating outcome,” Schwieterman said.
The top speed on the Yellow Line is 55 mph, and train operators usually slow down to about 25 mph when entering the Howard Terminal, Schwieterman said.
“It’s a worst-case scenario right around that curve — not enough time to stop,” Schwieterman said. “And usually only visual signals are enough to stop an ‘L’ train, but not today.”
The National Transportation Safety Board said it has sent a team to the scene.
The damaged train and snowplow remained on the scene by late afternoon and the Yellow Line remained closed. Both devices will remain in place until they are given approval by the NTSB.
In an unrelated incident just over three hours after the train crash,near the Howard Red Line terminal. At 1:51 p.m., a man was in an argument with another person that became physical in the 1600 block of West Howard Street, and the other person shot the man in the torso, killing him.