In wake of deadly Metra accident, NTSB says passenger ejections through train windows have been concern for decades

CHICAGO (CBS) — Christina Lopez, 72, died Wednesday after being ejected from a Metra train during a horrific accident in which the train hit a truck in Clarendon Hills.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday they believe the force of the impact caused Lopez to be ejected through the train window.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday they believe the force of the impact caused Lopez to be ejected through the train window.

In fact, concern about windows when it comes to safety for Metra passengers has been around for more than 40 years. We started looking into the issue after a viewer sent us video of the crash in Clarendon Hills on Wednesday.

Just after the train slams into the truck, the passenger on the Metra BNSF Railway train is ejected through the window. We have blurred the ejection, but it appears to show her hitting the window – either dislodging or breaking it as the impact propels her out of the train.

Video: Metra train hits truck in Clarendon Hills


It is catching the attention of the NTSB – the government agency that investigates rail accidents. 

In a report on the May 12, 2015, derailment of Amtrak Passenger Train 188 in Philadelphia – which killed eight people – the NTSB concluded, “If the passenger car windows had remained intact and secured in the cars, some passengers would not have been ejected and would likely have survived the accident.”

Meanwhile, in reference to a Dec. 1, 2013, derailment of a Metro-North Railroad train in the Spuyten Duyvil neighborhood of the Bronx in New York City, the NTSB found some passengers died “as a result of ejection through damaged or displaced passenger car windows.” Four people died in that accident.

“Absolute tragedy,” said University of Illinois at Chicago Transportation Center Director P.S. Sriraj.

Sriraj says passenger deaths of any kind are rare on trains – but still.

“But still, you don’t want to minimize that as a rare occurrence, and then not focus on improving that aspect of rail safety,” he said.

On June 10, 1971, 11 people died in downstate Salem, Illinois after being ejected through side windows of an Amtrak City of New Orleans train, which broke when their train derailed and overturned.

The report on the 2015 Philadelphia derailment noted that in 1972, the NTSB “noted that window ejections accounted for a large portion of passenger fatalities.”

But concerns about passengers being ejected through windows remained an issue for the NTSB more than 40 years later.

“Because it has come up again, maybe now is the time to focus on that particular aspect of rail safety,” Sriraj said.

After the 2013 New York City Metro-North train derailment, the NTSB recommended the Federal Railroad Administration – which enforces rail safety regulations – should “develop a performance standard to ensure that windows are retained… during an accident.”

Today, the NTSB still lists that request as “open” – so in their view, it has not been met.

An FRA spokesperson issued the following statement:

“The Federal Railroad Administration is actively supporting the NTSB’s ongoing investigation and is fully committed to addressing the Board’s open recommendation. Designing passenger rail vehicle windows to perform optimally under all accident scenarios is a longstanding challenge in the railroad industry. FRA has an active research program focused on the issue.”

The John A. Volpe National Transportation Center is handling the research on behalf of the FRA. The research is intended to evaluate all aspects of train windows – including glazing systems, passenger containment during accidents, emergency exit plans, rescue access, and impact resistance, sources said.

Late Thursday, our CBS 2 photographer saw an investigator removing a train window from the Clarendon Hills crash site. We do not know if it was the window that blew out.

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