IL: Metra Removes 2 Engineers From Duty as it Probes 'Scary' Rock Island Rides

June 04--Metra has removed two engineers from duty after two recent incidents on the Rock Island Line in which passengers reported being alarmed when their trains suddenly tilted precariously, the commuter rail agency said Tuesday.

One passenger told the Tribune that riders "collectively gasped" as the train listed to the side and seemed on the verge of derailing.

"It was scary as hell," said Paul Bedell, 53, a longtime commuter from Tinley Park. "There was a gradual tilt, to the point where we knew something was wrong."

Passengers thought the trains were going too fast, Bedell said.

In response to a Tribune inquiry, Metra said that the engineers of both trains have been removed from duty pending the outcome of an investigation. Metra wouldn't comment on whether either train was speeding, saying that it's under investigation.

"Safety is our number one priority, and we take these matters very, very seriously," said spokesman Michael Gillis, who said the agency had received several complaints about the incidents.

"Under our standard protocols, both engineers have been removed from service pending the results of the investigations."

The most recent incident occurred Monday as an inbound morning train neared 35th Street; the previous incident took place last Tuesday as an outbound evening rush-hour train traveled near 63rd Street, passengers said.

While there are no sharp curves, there are several points on the Rock Island tracks between Pershing Rd. and 63rd St. where there are "crossovers" allowing trains to move from one track to another.

That stretch of Rock Island track has been the scene of two serious derailments -- one in 2005 that caused the death of two passengers and the other in 2003 that injured 47.

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed both derailments on engineers who failed to slow trains at a crossover at 48th St. that has since been removed.

Locomotives are equipped with event recorders to measure data such as speed and braking, experts say.

A preliminary review found that all track, signals and equipment have been tested and are functioning properly, Gillis said.

Metra said it is issuing a bulletin to remind all operating personnel of the importance of safe operating procedures. Agency managers have also been directed to meet with all engineers personally to reinforce the importance of safe operating practices, Gillis said.

There was no further information available about the engineers, Gillis said.

A spokesman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen based in Cleveland, Ohio, did not return a call for comment.

rwronski@tribune.com -- Twitter: @RichWronski

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