Officials Probe Train Wrecks in Boston, Chicago


 
 

Steve LeBlanc | | Thursday, May 29, 2008


NEWTON, Mass. -- The operator of a commuter train was killed and several passengers were injured when the trolley she was driving slammed into the back of another train, derailing both, officials said.

Investigators did not know what caused Wednesday's wreck, which came hours after an elevated train derailed in Chicago, sending 14 people to hospitals. Officials there quickly blamed human error by the operator.

Outside Boston, 24-year-old Terrese Edmonds was killed and about 10 passengers were injured in the aboveground accident on the city's "T" system, said Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

The two-car train Edmonds was operating struck the back of another two-car train approaching Woodland Station during the evening rush hour, Pesaturo said. The trains had about 200 passengers combined.

"The first one was stopped at a red signal and was ready to proceed to the station when it was struck," he said.

For hours, firefighters struggled to free Edmonds from the mangled wreckage. She was finally extricated early Thursday.

"It is my unfortunate duty to report the death of one of our employees," MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas said, adding that it was a "miracle" that there weren't more fatalities.

One passenger was flown to a Boston hospital, and the other injured commuters were taken to nearby Newton-Wellesley Hospital. The hospital had eight train-wreck patients, none with serious injuries, spokesman Brian O'Dea said.

Federal investigators were on their way to the crash site to study the scene and interview witnesses, said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board. A full report is not expected for up to 18 months, he said.

Both trains remained at the crash site early Thursday, covered in tarpaulins. The MBTA was busing commuters around the scene.

In Chicago, authorities said a train operator apparently made two key errors in quick succession to cause a derailment that left passengers perched more than 20 feet above the ground.

"Everybody was screaming and hollering and you know, and praying for God," said 35-year-old Willie Jackson, who was aboard the train's second car when it derailed and leaned west off the tracks.

The operator failed to heed a red signal ordering him to stop, Chicago Transit Authority spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said. After the four-car train went through the signal, it automatically activated a trip, which stopped the train.

But the operator moved the train forward again to a spot where the tracks weren't aligned, causing the rear end of the front car and the second car to derail but remain standing, with the other two cars still on the tracks, Gaffney said.

"He was going on the wrong tracks, or started to," she said.

Gaffney said there was still a possibility the aging transit system played a role in the derailment.

The operator, who has 31 years' experience, was cooperating with the investigation and will not be allowed to return to work until the probe is done, she said.

A total of 25 people were on the train, including one CTA employee. Some of the injured were put in ladder baskets and lowered to the ground, where they were put in ambulances. Others were led off the tracks via a nearby stairwell, officials said.




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