CTA Union Chief: “We’ve All Dozed Off Driving a Train”

O’Hare Blue Line Crash Sets off War between CTA, Rail Union

Robert KellyTransit riders beware: the head of the CTA’s rail union says dozing off while driving a train is not all that uncommon.

“Come on, we’ve all dozed off driving a train,” said Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 President Robert Kelly. “There’s a difference between dozing off and falling asleep.”

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Kelly called a news conference Friday afternoon to address questions surrounding the operator of the Blue Line train that sped into the O’Hare station, blew past the end of the track, and crash-landed on an escalator.

The driver has admitted during an NTSB investigation to dozing off before the train arrived at O’Hare, only to awake after the crash. Kelly says the driver, who has not been identified, is “torn to pieces” about the incident. He blames what he says was an abnormally long work week for her fatigue. She is an “extra board” employee, meaning she fills in shifts where other employees are either sick or on vacation, and finds out about her shift the day before.

Kelly says the driver worked 69 hours in the seven days leading up to the incident, and says that was “definitely a factor” in what happened.

But the CTA, citing timesheets, says she only worked 55 hours, and emphasizes that she was off for 18 hours prior to the shift during which the incident occurred.*

The CTA blasted Kelly’s comments today, saying Kelly is “making a clear attempt to interfere with the investigative process.”

“Bob Kelly is again providing false and misleading information in an effort to distort the truth and divert attention away from his union,” said a CTA spokesperson.

But, Kelly says the real culprit is a dazed workforce, and a lack of transit funding to hire more motormen to save current ones from heavy overtime.

“It’s not an easy thing to just go home and fall asleep, the rest of the world is waking up,” said Kelly.

Kelly says it’s natural to doze off while driving, whether behind the wheel of a train or a car.

“Everybody’s done it at some point in time. You take a family trip, you’re driving long hours…you go into a subconscious doze,” he said. “I’m not trying to justify it, but it happens to all of us.”

He also claims the conductor involved in the crash did not lie when she told CTA investigators she had “closed her eyes for a moment” in a February incident in which her train overshot the Blue Line station on Belmont. She recently told NTSB investigators she had indeed nodded off during that incident.

“There’s no discrepancy,” Kelly said. “That’s what she meant when she said ‘nodded off,’ that she closed her eyes.’”

Kelly says he will defend the motorman should the CTA move to fire her. The CTA is already facing several lawsuits related to the incident. The NTSB has not yet concluded its investigation.

Read the full statement from CTA below, and watch Kelly in a web extra video from today’s news conference:

*CTA statement in response to Robert Kelly claims, March 28, 2014

As has become his common response in issues involving his union, Bob Kelly is again providing false and misleading information in an effort to distort the truth and divert attention away from his union.

Mr. Kelly’s claims today are untruthful and irresponsible, and a clear attempt to interfere with the investigative process.

Mr. Kelly tried to do the same thing 6 months ago—and was removed by the NTSB from the investigation of the Sept. 30 Blue Line incident after providing misleading information to the media about the investigation by calling a press conference a month after the crash—violating NTSB rules against speaking in public while the investigation is ongoing.

Further, Mr. Kelly was not even asked by NTSB to be part of the investigation of this week’s incident, even though union presidents are always automatically invited in NTSB investigations.

While the CTA is working closely with the NTSB to ensure a thorough investigation, Mr. Kelly is trying to obstruct it.

Regarding Mr. Kelly’s claims:

Claim:  Operator worked 69 hours week before incident
False.  Operator worked 55 hours in the seven days preceding the incident —and was off for 18 hours prior to her shift during which the incident occurred. Her longest shift was 9.2 hours.

Claim: Operator worked “strange” hours.
False.  Operator worked the overnight shift for four days in the week before the incident—and had one day off during that the week.  As was her right under the collective bargaining agreement, the operator requested additional work hours – two shifts that added up to 13.6 hours.  Because of the Union labor agreement, the CTA was required to provide those work hours.

Additionally, CTA’s process for scheduling is similar to that of every other transit agency in the country.

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