CTA Yellow Line crash caused by ‘design issue,’ National Transportation Safety Board says


Chicago Fire Department and Chicago Police Department personnel triage patients at the scene after a Chicago Transit Authority train crashed into a piece of equipment that was on the rails near the Howard CTA station on the North Side, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A crash on the CTA’s Yellow Line that injured 38 people when a train slammed into snow removal equipment on Thursday was caused by a “design issue,” according to an official with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Board chair Jennifer Homendy told reporters Saturday night the train’s braking distance should have been longer.

The train was going 26.9 miles-per-hour when it struck snow removal equipment that was on the tracks while employees were conducting training for the winter season, Homendy said the preliminary findings of an investigation showed.

At that speed, the train was designed to be able to stop within 1,780 feet of an object it its path, but didn’t, she said.

“That’s essentially an old design,” she said.

Homendy said it would take further investigation before the agency could recommend specific design changes.

A system designed today would have given the train an even greater stopping distance of 2,745 feet, Homendy said. Stopping distances on new systems have increased because over time “cars get heavier, there are more passengers,” she said.

An accounting of systemic changes have been made to the CTA’s braking components in the past would still needs to be more deeply analyzed, she said.

Homendy said investigators have also learned that the train’s wheels were slipping when the operator was braking, but are still trying to determine whether “debris residue” on the tracks played a role.

Reports that there was a warning issued to the train operator before the crash were incorrect, Homendy said. That warning was issued to a different train at the Oakton-Skokie station that told the operator of that train to remain at the station.

CTA officials previously said the line would remain down for at least several days. Homendy said she had no new information about when service might resume.

Shuttle bus service is available between Howard and Skokie/Dempster, serving all affected stations during normal hours of operation.

Homendy said the CTA remained a very safe form of transportation, particularly compared to driving.

“You are much safer taking the train,” she said. “I would take the train tonight, tomorrow. I have no concerns, safety concerns, for taking the train.”