CHICAGO (CBS) — Again and again, a tweet alerts Chicago Transit Authority train riders that their trains will be delayed because of people on the CTA tracks.
It halts commutes almost every day. And CBS 2’s Lauren Victory had a stark example of the danger this week – in the form of a photo of two people strolling where they should not be.
“It took me a second to realize what was going on,” said the woman behind the photo.
The alarm bells went off when she saw a young man and woman right in a train’s path on the Red Line at Thorndale – and steps from the deadly, electrified third rail.
“She wasn’t moving off the tracks. She hadn’t dropped anything. She was just standing there,” the woman said.
The incident isn’t even among the 50 different delays we found posted to the Chicago Transit Authority Twitter page. That makes 50 unique times that trains fell behind schedule in just two months because of an unauthorized person on the tracks.
“I could see a train at Granville, which would take seconds for that to make it to Thorndale where we were,” the woman who took the photo said. “Potentially, two people could have been hit.”
The panicked witness said the station attendant wasn’t on the platform, nor was he at his booth.
“He was at the little store next to the station. He had to go back into his booth, get his vest, put it on, lock up the booth to go upstairs,” she said. “It took him, I mean, at least a full minute. There was no sense of urgency.”
Thankfully, the young girl in the photo and her companion were OK. But things don’t always turn out that way.
Who can forget the case of Felon Smith, who was struck and killed by a Red Line train in the summer? Smith, 37, went down onto the tracks from the 69th Street platform to get her phone and was hit by a northbound train.
Just a few days before Felon Smith was killed on the Red Line, someone walking backwards to read the train schedule fell onto the platform at 35th and Archer on the Orange Line.
Police said she lay there for there for four minutes, and then a train ran her over.
And on Aug. 22, a man slipped onto the rails at the Wilson Red Line station in Uptown after he was beaten up by two people.
Others land in the path of CTA trains deliberately to end their lives.
“I read those stories afterwards and I mean, it’s that easy. It can happen that quickly,” the witness from the Thorndale stop said.
The woman said she sent the photo to CBS 2’s Victory “because (the station attendant) didn’t act quickly. I wanted to see what CTA’s protocols were, and that’s how I found your story.”
CBS 2’s investigation into the problem of people getting onto CTA tracks aired on Aug. 5. Victory talked with CTA Vice President of Communications Brian Steele about the issue in July – asking why the CTA doesn’t have somebody on the platform watching what happens at all times.
“Well, that gets to a staffing issue,” Steele said in July.
Victory sat down with the CTA after combing through track trespassing data from three city departments – discovering nearly 600 times riders wound up on the tracks in two years.
Our taxpayer-funded transit system contains tens of thousands of surveillance cameras, but station attendants do not have a TV or a computer to see the live feed from the cameras inside their booths? Why not?
“It’s something that we’re moving toward, but it’s not something that was originally done when the security cameras were installed,” Steele said in July.
What is the status of the project now, we asked, three months after the interview with Steele?
The CTA took four full days to send us a three-second response and ignored Victory’s question.
We also asked about the supposed “updated signage campaign” – revamping ads that have been mounted about the dangers of the track area.
The CTA originally said it was working on the ads in-house, meaning no outside costs. Even the models for the ads are CTA employees, as they were in similar ads from a few years ago.
There were no updates on that for this story either.
Commuters are also demanding answers. Remember all the tweets about delays? Other Twitter users leave commence such as, “Do better CTA,” and, “Still a daily occurrence… why?”
And there is no reason to think it’ll stop – considering history and what the Federal Transit Administration is reporting. Data shows CTA collisions specifically involving trains and people – and excluding suicides – have steadily risen over the past 10 years.
There were only four CTA trains collisions with people, eight in 2014, and 11 in 2016, but 18 in 2017 and 19 in 2018. The figure for 2019 is 14, but that is only for half the year.
The woman who took the picture at Thorndale said she did not believe better signage would have made any difference.
“I guess I just don’t see how signage would have helped in my situation,” she said.
The woman added she was still in disbelief after seeing two people on the Red Line tracks as if they were the sidewalk.
“And I still don’t know what to do, like if that were ever to occur again,” she said. “It was pretty traumatizing.”
Other than telling Victory that safety is paramount, the CTA refused to provide specifics of what is being done to keep people off the tracks.
We also asked Mayor Lori Lightfoot to respond to our findings, but no one ever returned our phone calls or emails.