The CTA Yellow Line reopened Friday morning, seven weeks after a crash on the tracks injured more than a dozen people and left the train line to Skokie closed.
CTA has attributed the nearly two-month closure to testing the agency was conducting on the line and a desire to have National Transportation Safety Board investigators return to Chicago for a second visit, as questions lingered about the factors contributing to the crash and whether it could have been prevented.
CTA’s reopening of the line, also known as the Skokie Swift, comes with several new safety measures, including lowering train speeds to a maximum of 35 mph, down from 55 mph before the crash. Speeds in the area of the collision were to be lowered to 25 mph.
On Nov. 16, a Yellow Line train was approaching the Howard station, near the border of Chicago and Evanston, when it rear-ended a “snow-fighter” track-plowing train that was on the tracks for scheduled training. At least 16 people were taken to hospitals after the crash, three of them critically injured, according to a preliminary NTSB report. Initial reports from first responders had indicated 23 people were taken to hospitals.
The crash also caused about $8.7 million in damages to equipment and sparked multiple lawsuits. Yellow Line service was replaced with free shuttle buses.
In the mid-December preliminary report, the NTSB found the train’s operator tried to brake before the crash, and a system designed to reduce sliding by the train’s wheels while braking had activated. The train was made up of two, nearly decade-old 5000-series cars, which is CTA’s most common model railcar.
The NTSB is still investigating the crash, but Chair Jennifer Homendy has previously said the CTA’s signal system, which controls train movement, was old, and if it were designed today it would have to allow for a longer stopping distance for trains. She has also said there was residue on the tracks and that the train’s wheels slipped as the operator tried to brake, and the NTSB is examining “organic material” on the tracks that can include contaminants such as leaf debris.
Homendy has previously said it was up to CTA to decide when to reopen the line, and ensure it was safe.
During the seven-week closure, CTA examined various factors that might have affected the crash. The agency tested all of its train models on the Yellow Line, and ran tests in a variety of weather conditions and at a variety of speeds. Officials reviewed tracks, signals, train operations and communications.
Test runs did not identify any issues, CTA said.
The agency also requested the NTSB return to Chicago to conduct further testing and meet with the manufacturer of the railcar that crashed. Federal investigators had previously been on-site immediately after the crash, and ended their second visit Dec. 20.
CTA President Dorval Carter told board members in December nowhere else in the system has the same design as the Yellow Line, so the agency was focusing on measures on that route.
When the three-stop line reopens at 4:45 a.m. Friday, trains will temporarily run at lower speeds, CTA said.
Crews have power-washed the line to clear rails of debris and residue, and are allowing equipment to move on the tracks only after receiving a verbal command from CTA’s control center. Supervisors will also join operators on the first few Yellow Line runs.
Carter has previously said the NTSB did not direct CTA to make any of the changes.
“As CTA president, the safety of CTA riders and employees is of absolute paramount importance to me, and an incident like the one on Nov. 16 warrants intensive reviews,” he told board members in mid-December.