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Chicagoans wonder if more can be done to prevent CTA injuries

A northbound CTA Pink line train heading to 54/Cermak. In the past year, there have been multiple incidents involving injury on the CTA, and many are asking if there is more the city can do to stop them. (CREDIT: Flickr.com, user g28646.)

In the last few months, there have been accidents involving people waiting to board the CTA “L” trains, some of which may have involved alcohol. It has Chicagoans wondering if more could be done to keep passengers safe.

According to the CTA, there have been 11 incidents this year on the transit system.  Four of these incidents have been fatal. The CTA doesn’t have an exact statistic of how many of these accidents involved alcohol, but they say accidents on the rail system are a common occurrence, and happen multiple times per year.

“For the past three years, there have been between six and 10 rail fatalities annually, involving both contact with trains and the third rail,” said CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski.  “These fatalities are due to both accidental and apparently intentional circumstances.”

According to CBS Chicago, there have been four separate incidents in the past year involving people falling onto the electrified third rail. On April 22, Zachary McKee, 27, of Ossian, Ind. tried to go down to track level at the South Boulevard Purple line station, when he came into contact with the third rail and died. On August 1, Fabian Cruz, 33, of Chicago’s Southwest Side, tried to cross the third rail to get to the opposite platform at the Blue line’s California station, when he grabbed onto the third rail and was electrocuted. On August 7, Jeffery Knoll, 27, of Frankfort, fell onto the third rail at the Forest Park station on the Blue line. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The most recent incident occurred on Sept. 15, at the Loyola station on the CTA Red line. Loyola University senior John Versnel died after falling onto the third rail. According to CBS Chicago, Versnel, 21, of the Rogers Park neighborhood, fell onto the tracks around 1:20 a.m. Police say he was allegedly drinking with friends when he exited a train arriving at the station, bumped into a pillar on the platform and stumbled onto the tracks, coming into contact with the electrified third rail.

Some CTA riders believe alcohol is a prime cause of these incidents.

“I would definitely say that alcohol could play a big role in some of the decisions people make while waiting for the train,” said Carly Hacker, 21, a sociology/psychology double major at DePaul University. “I think that if people are going to go out drinking, like from older adults to young college students new to Chicago, you’re taking a transportation that can be dangerous to you, so you just have to be aware of your surroundings and safety.”

Some passengers believe there’s more the CTA can do to avoid accidents involving intoxicated passengers.

“They should have better monitoring at the places where people purchase passes, as well as around the turnstiles,” said Ian Sherwood, 21, a business major at Loyola University Chicago. “Allowing somebody to go through the turnstiles wasted is just asking for trouble.”

But some believe it would be hard for CTA personnel to do more to avoid accidents.

“They already have cameras watching the lines, and CTA personnel [usually] staffed in those offices,” Hacker said. “I would say it would be hard, because you don’t want to turn traveling around to like an airport where everyone and everything is being checked out.”

Despite the incidents, the CTA is ensuring passengers that safety is still their No. 1 priority.

“Once incident is too many,” Hosinski said. “We have taken multiple steps to promote safety and awareness to our customers and employees when on our system. Customers receive safety messages every time they take the CTA  –entering a station, waiting on the platform and when inside rail cars.”

The CTA also has tips for passengers to avoid injury or possible death.

“CTA strongly emphasizes the importance of being cautious,” Hosinski said. “When on platforms, stand behind the blue tactile edging or at least two feet from the edge to avoid falling, slipping or possibly dropping something onto the tracks.”

The CTA says alcohol doesn’t always play a role in these incidents.

“Alcohol is not always involved in accidental deaths,” Hosinski said. “But it has been a contributing factor in some of the incidents.”

Some passengers say there is more the Chicago Police Department can do.

“There is probably more they can do,” said Sherwood. “But I’m sure they are weighing out how to spread officers out and putting a cop pacing out on the platform is probably not the highest priority.”

A request for comment was not returned by the Chicago Police Department before publication.

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.