The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation after a Chicago Transit Authority Yellow Line train crashed into a piece of snow plow equipment on the track in Chicago Thursday morning, leaving as many as 38 people injured.
It’s one of the largest CTA train crashes in decades, NBC5 Investigates found.
According to the Chicago Fire Department, the crash happened at 7519 N. Paulina, between Evanston and Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood.
In a statement, the CTA said the incident occurred at 10:39 a.m., when the agency received reports of a Yellow Line train “making contact with rail equipment in the Howard Rail Yard.”
CFD during a press conference later Thursday clarified that a Yellow Line train struck a snow CTA plow train in the rail yard, calling the incident “train vs. train.”
“Both Yellow and Purple line service has been temporarily suspended,” the statement continued. “Yellow Line riders should use the #97 Skokie bus route as an alternative. Purple Line riders can use the #205 Chicago/Golf bus route or other adjacent bus route.”
Several streets in the area were closed following the crash, and power had been shut off to Red, Purple and Yellow Lines. According to CTA, service on the Yellow Line remains suspended.
During Thursday’s press conference, CFD said at least 38 people were evaluated by medical personnel after the crash. Of those, 23 were transported to area hospitals. At least three were critically injured. No life-threatening injuries were reported, CFD said.
Four of those injured were children, CFD said during the update. Additionally, one person required a “special rescue” from the Evanston Fire Department, a tweet from the Evanston Police Department said.
The NTSB is expected to hold an update Friday to release more details into the investigation. The CTA has not provided further updates as to what led up to the collision.
Radio traffic sheds light on CTA Yellow Line crash, one of worst in agency’s history
NBC 5 obtained audio of the CTA traffic control tower trying to get in contact with a CTA train operator, moments before the derailment.
“The striking thing about this audio is the timing of it,” NBC 5 Investigates noted. More than an hour before the crash, we hear a warning that a maintenance vehicle will be on the tracks in the area where the collision eventually occurs. Then the audio gets more frantic in the moments before the crash.
At 8:53 am Thursday morning, the CTA control tower alerted train operators that there were personnel and equipment on the tracks between Howard and Oakton.
The next transmission from the control tower was just minutes before the crash around 10:29 am. The CTA control tower repeatedly said, “Stop your train please.”
NBC 5 investigates has more insight into what happened in the moments before the Yellow line train crash and derailment Thursday morning, NBC Chicago’s PJ Randhawa reports.
It’s unclear if the train the control tower is referencing is the one that is involved in the crash and derailment.
Moments later, the control tower confirms a crash has occurred between the train and a “snow flat bed train”.
“They have made contact with some equipment at Chicago…which has caused injuries on the train at this time,” said the CTA control tower operator moments after the track.
“Today it looks like we have a worst case scenario where either technology or human error, both happened at the same time,” DePaul University transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman told NBC5 Investigates. “This raises the question whether the operator on the other line could have been incapacitated in some way or distracted.”
Lawsuit filed against CTA following crash
Clifford Law Offices promptly filed a lawsuit against the CTA on Thursday shortly after the crash on behalf of a 52-year-old man who was a passenger on the train on his way to see a friend.
“Snow plow equipment on a train track,” Henry Simmons of Clifford Law said. “It’s 62 degrees today in Chicago. Why is that, or any other equipment, on the same rail as an L train transporting passengers?”
Clifford Law said their client was in the second train car at the time of the crash, and was among those hospitalized in the aftermath of the incident.
For others near the incident, the crash caused confusion and fear.
One Purple Line passenger told NBC Chicago she thought the train could have been on fire, while a CTA employee described seeing a child taken into an ambulance in the crash’s aftermath.
“So many crews, working fast and working hard. Just scary seeing how bad the damage to the train was,” CTA employee Katya Bonilla said.
Shortly after the crash, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker tweeted that his administration was “closely monitoring” the derailment, and would direct “any available resources needed.”
“Terrible news out of Chicago this afternoon,” the tweet said. “My administration is closely monitoring the train derailment on the North Side and will direct any available resources needed. Thank you to the CFD firefighters and first responders on the scene.”
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson also released a statement.
“Just before 10:45 a.m., a two-car Skokie Swift train traveling southbound encountered a CTA snow removal vehicle traveling in the same direction,” Johnson’s statement said. “They subsequently collided, resulting in 38 injuries, 23 of which were transported to the hospital. Three patients were transported in serious condition with non-life-threatening injuries.”
Our thoughts are with all affected and we are grateful for our brave first responders on the scene,” the statement continues.” We are working closely with emergency services as we continue to monitor this incident.”