NTSB Launches Investigation into Nov. 16 CTA Train Collision

An investigation into the yellow line train crash at the Howard station that occurred in November of 2023 has been launched by the NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation into the commuter train crash that occurred near the Howard Station on the Yellow Line Nov. 16. 

The crash — which left 38 people injured, three critically — occurred after a Yellow Line train collided with snow-removal equipment on the tracks, according to the Associated Press.

There were 15 people injured who refused to be transported to a hospital, and no deaths in the collision, according to AP.

The passenger train was traveling at 26.9 mph at the time of the collision, and the incident has been connected to design flaws in the braking system by NTSB. Further investigation by NTSB into the brakes system specifically is being conducted, according to AP.

Joe Murphy, an attorney at Clifford Law Offices, said he is representing six of the crash victims. 

Although not considered critically injured, one of the victims Murphy represents was still struggling to complete everyday tasks due to the injuries he sustained more than two weeks after the incident, according to Murphy. 

“One was in the hospital for three days and was knocked unconscious,” Murphy said. “His head hit the glass and he doesn’t remember anything.”

As of Nov. 30, Murphy said all six of his clients were still being treated for their injuries and multiple were still unable to return to work.

“They know they have doctors’ notes from the hospitals that they’re at or their primary care physicians give them notes,” Murphy said. “Two of them at least want to work. They want to go back to their jobs because they need the money. But they just can’t do it because they’re still in a great deal of pain.”

The Snow-Fighter — the equipment which the passenger train collided with — was on the tracks to help CTA employees ahead of the winter season, according to NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. 

The CTA didn’t respond to The Phoenix’s request for comment.

Seven of the 38 aboard the train were CTA workers. The train conductor was seen to be bleeding and heard screaming by passengers of the train, according to AP. 

Murphy said he has reached out to the CTA but had received no response as of Nov. 30, although this isn’t the first time the CTA has ignored contact attempts from their law office. 

“We’re just, you know, hoping that CTA will do the right thing here and admit their mistake, but you know, we’re not crossing our fingers,” Murphy said. 

During a Nov. 18 NTSB press conference, Homendy said CTA trains are designed to stop within 2,745 feet of an obstruction on the tracks that could lead to a collision. She said her investigative team is looking at things like the signal system within the train, the braking algorithm and if there was debris residue on the track. 

At the time of the collision, some black residue was found on the tracks, causing the wheels of the train to slip when the operator was braking but wasn’t marked as the main cause of the collision, according to Homendy. 

“Our team was able to determine that it was in fact a design problem,” Homenday said. “The braking distance should have been longer. They should have had 2,745 feet to stop that train. 2,745 feet. Not 1,780 feet. That is a design problem.” 

Homendy said the CTA has an old system in place for their brakes, and it’s necessary to update this system to accommodate new trains as they are heavier and have more advanced technology than older models. 

In addition to the brake flaws, the conductor was speeding at the time of the crash, Homendy said during the press conference. 

“This is human error,” Murphy said. “Obviously, it shouldn’t have happened. You know, clearly there’s some issue but the biggest thing we have here is the NTSB said that this could be, you know, there was a design flaw.”

Murphy said he sees a difference in the collision being caused by human error versus a defect in the brakes which could apply to all trains.

“If it were just human error, that’s one thing,” Murphy said. “But if we have a design flaw here, then the question becomes is this the entire fleet of CTA trains?”

There are no further updates to the investigation beyond the November press conferences, NTSB wrote in an email to The Phoenix Jan. 30.

Featured Image by Holden Green / The Phoenix

Lilli Malone

Lilli Malone