Tuesday, April 15, 2008

CTA Blue Line makes unplanned stops

The Chicago Tribune reports that "a southbound CTA Blue Line train was evacuated" this morning after failing near the Clark and Lake subway station.

It wasn't the only one. I was a passenger on a train which -- according to the motorman -- was two trains behind the stalled one. The train in front of us allegedly tried to push the stopped one... but to no avail. The motorman suggested that we might go back to the station at Grand and Milwaukee and travel to the Loop on the track usually reserved for O'Hare-bound traffic.

But no situation is so bad that it can't be made worse by impatient people: Power was cut on our train -- no lights, no fans -- because people had jumped off another train and were trying to leg it through the tunnel.

Eventually, this was the course we were all instructed to take.

These are a couple of passengers on my car, gazing rather apprehensively at the catwalk that we were supposed to follow to the nearest emergency exit.

By this time, we had been stuck, virtually in one spot for 90 minutes (the train did move a few yards a couple of different times during this time).

Once on the catwalk, we stalled again. These two folks got out of the train... but were stuck again, waiting in line.

Unable to see ahead of them toward the alleged emergency exit, they may be looking back to see if another alternative were presented there.

This is the train ahead of us. People walked back from that train to the same exit used by passengers from the train I was on. (I tried to snap a number of pictures while moving carefully toward the emergency exit, but in the gloom, and with the limitations of the camera I was using, not all of the shots came out.)

When finally reached, the emergency exit turned out to be not particularly glamorous.

My camera could not quite capture the grunge or the dirt of the place. My trenchcoat, however, did: As I was finally walking to the office, a little after 10:00 a.m., a man approached me on the street and asked me if I knew my coat was covered in dirt. I didn't, I told him, but I was not surprised.

The Fire Department was waiting for us as we emerged from our exit, at Milwaukee and Clinton.

Shuttle buses were also lined up to take passengers to their final destinations.

After the spiral stairway shown above, there was one final stairway to the street -- more of a ladder, really, and emergency personnel were waiting to help people up to the street.

Fortunately, this is not a regular occurrence on the CTA.

The motorman on our train deserves credit for trying to keep the passengers informed: At one point, he told us there were 12 trains backed up behind us, all the way to Jefferson Park. At another he said, "I have 50 people talking all at once on one single channel. I will sort it all out and get back to you in a minute."

While I'm certain there will be stories of passengers becoming hysterical or ill because of the delays, my own observation was that people bore the inconvenience well and with reasonably good humor. Some of that humor faded, perhaps understandably, as passengers stepped in puddles of indeterminate composition at the foot of that spiral staircase leading toward the street.

Update: Going Public, the mass transit blog of Red Eye has this post about this morning's frivolities. There is a sharp division of opinion, obviously, about whether it was appropriate for riders to bolt from the trains without instruction. Apparently the CTA is officially taking the position -- as I'd speculated in the body of this post -- that the persons who left on their own wound up causing the service delays to be longer than they otherwise might have been. Of course, as far as I know, when we were finally instructed to leave the train, the disabled train still had not been moved through the station at Clark and Lake. People seem to have bolted because they received no meaningful information about the status of the problem -- if all the motormen had kept their riders as informed as the motorman on my train, perhaps no one would have bolted at all.

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