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Trains rerouted, shuttle buses running as damaged rail cars block tracks

October 02, 2013 | By Jon Hilkevitch, Chicago Tribune reporter

CTA officials were at the scene of this week’s Blue Line collision Tuesday night, working to remove one or both of the trains that for two days prompted complaints about crowded platforms and, in some cases, more-than-doubled commuting times.

The crash involved an out-of-service, apparently driverless train that mysteriously traveled about a half-mile from the Forest Park rail yard and, continuing on the wrong tracks, slammed head-on into a train stopped at the Harlem station with about 40 passengers aboard. More than 30 them suffered bumps and bruises, according to hospitals.

Blue Line trains have since been operating on a single track between Oak Park and Forest Park, bypassing the Harlem station.

The accident created “a ripple effect on the entire Blue Line this morning,” CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said earlier in the day Tuesday. “We are making changes to mitigate that until we can get back to normal service.”

One of those changes has involved shuttle buses, which were launched immediately after the accident and were still in service as of Tuesday night. CTA riders using the shuttles to reach the Harlem station were being dropped off in front of the station house.

Customers at Harlem seeking to get on the Blue Line have had to board a shuttle bus at the Harlem/Harrison bus stop, where the bus was going to the Oak Park Blue Line station. The alternative service was expected to continue until the trains were moved, the CTA said.

Across other parts of the Blue Line, other changes have included more short-run trains, Chase said. Every other Blue Line train operating westbound to Forest Park was making its last stop at Oak Park before turning to begin inbound service, Chase said.

Some westbound trains were operating only to the UIC-Halsted station before turning to begin eastbound service, the CTA said.

The restrictions led to more than a few complaints from commuters.

“My husband left at 7:30 this morning and didn’t get to work (at Clark and Lake) until 9:15 from the Western stop,” rider Sheridan Chaney told the Tribune via email. “I use the California stop and managed to wedge onto the fourth train at about 8:40.”

The CTA’s online service alert said Tuesday that there are “significant delays” on the Blue Line. It also warned that Train Tracker, a Web-based tool that predicts when the next train will arrive at stations, may not be available to customers.

Prior to their work late Tuesday, CTA officials referred all questions about the investigation to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the probe. The NTSB’s public affairs office was closed as a result of the federal government shutdown, and agency officials could not be reached for comment.

The NTSB, which typically sends a “go team” to accidents involving multiple fatalities, opted to take over the CTA investigation because of the unique circumstances coupled with the complex interaction of railroad signal, mechanical, track switch and communications systems.

On Monday, transit officials said they were eagerly waiting for video downloads from cameras on the two trains, the Harlem station and the Forest Park yard to determine conclusively whether anybody could have been aboard the rogue train or tampered with equipment.

Also on Monday, a preliminary review of available video indicated that no one was in the operator’s cab of the four-car train, the CTA said.