It is inevitable, I suppose, that after a train system has been operating for more than 100 years, it is bound to have experienced its share of accidents, wrecks, and mishaps. A number of factors contributed to the likelihood of accidents early on - on-sight signaling, tight headways, fragile wooden cars, mingling "L" cars with cars of other railways [the CNS&M and the CA&E, specifically] - and the likelihood of accidents has decreased markedly in modern times with the use of signaling systems. Still, many accidents have occurred.

Thankfully, the "L" does not have claim to the worst transportation disaster in Chicago (that dubious honor goes to the 1915 Eastland disaster in which 844 were killed when an excursion steamer capsized in the Chicago River) nor the worst train disaster (that happened in 1972 when two Illinois Central commuter trains collided at 27th Street, killing forty-five). But the "L" has had its share.

It is also worth noting that many "L"-related mishaps are not the fault of the CTA or their predecessors at all, but rather Mother Nature. A fair number of crippling problems have resulted from heavy snowfalls and other nature-related mishaps. These are perhaps the most frustrating because it is difficult to be fully prepared for them and impossible to prevent them.

Listed below are those incidents which could truly be called disasters in some way or another (and the term is, of course, high subjective). Each is linked to a page describing the incident, with an additional page listing those mishaps which, while disastrous in their own right, do not warrant a page all their own.

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DISCLAIMER: There seems to be a tendency in the United States to want to blow rail accidents out of proportion. For instance, after the Amtrak crash at Bourbannais, a vigorous discussion ensued about how unsafe rail travel is. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact of the matter is that, statistically speaking, rail travel is one of the safest modes in the country. In 1990, for instance, there were 326,346 automobile accidents in the Chicago area, resulting in 771 fatalities, only a few less than Chicago's worst transportation disaster (which wasn't even rail-related, see above). That year, there were no major "L" accidents and no resulting fatalities. The fact is, you're safer on the "L" than in a car.

So when you read these accident reports, please don't think the CTA's "L" is not a safe mode of transportation. Remember to take these incidents in the larger context and do not blow them out of proportion. They are presented only for informational and (if you are truly an unsavory individual) entertainment purposes. The CTA's rapid transit system is a very safe, fast, effective mode of travel in the City of Chicago!


Train Accidents | Weather/Natural Disasters


Train Accidents

The 48th Avenue/Met Plunge - December 23, 1895
A sleeping motorman drove his single-car train off the end of the 48th Avenue stub-end terminal on the Garfield Park Line and onto the ground late one night.
 
The Rockwell Derailment - June 20, 1896
Only a week after switching from steam power to electric traction, a westbound motorcar on the Lake Street Elevated derailed near Rockwell Street on the morning of the 20th. The incident caused the Lake Street to revert back to steam power until the company could make certain modifications to the cars.
 
The Granville Rear-End Accident - November 24, 1936
A rear-end collision involving a North Shore Line interurban hitting the rear of an "L" train near the Granville station on the North Side destroyed the trailing wooden car, sending parts of the car body and injured passengers tumbling to the alley below in what was, for many years, the "L"'s worst accident.
 
The Wilson Collision - November 5, 1956
A deadly accident occurred when a 6000-series CTA train rammed the rear of a North Shore Line interurban stopped at Wilson to load and discharge passengers.
 
The Loop Crash - February 4, 1977
The accident that occurred in February 1977 at the corner of Lake and Wabash in the Loop lives on in many people's minds as the worst rapid transit accident in Chicago history. Four cars fell from the elevated structure after an eight-car Lake-Dan Ryan train rammed a six-car Ravenswood stopped east of the State/Lake station.
 
Miscellaneous Lesser Incidents - various dates
Besides the major incidents listed above, a number of lesser mishaps have occurred over the years (the "L" equivalent of a "fender-bender", I suppose). Listed here are some of these incidents, with dates and a brief description of each.
 

Weather/Natural Disasters

The Blizzard of '79
Although the Blizzard of 1967 occurred previously, the Blizzard of '79 was the first that crippled the "L" system in a serious way. With many cars and even sections of some lines out of service, the "L"'s service was severely disrupted for several weeks.
 
The Flood of '92
An accidental flood in the city's abandoned underground freight tunnel system flooded the CTA's State Street and Dearborn Street Subways downtown, not to mention many Loop basements!
 
The Blizzard of '99
In a repeat of the 1979 storm, a week of severe snow caused hundreds of rail cars to go out of service and crippled the "L" system for more than a week, closing sections of lines and causing long delays and disruptions in service.