Frank Kruesi Watched CTA Turn Blind Eye to Safety

(Photo: Lying? What makes you think I’m lying? Original Credit: Zolk.)

According to the recently released National Transportation Safety Board report on last year’s rush-hour Blue Line derailment that injured more than 150 innocent transit riders, under Frank Kruesi’s leadership the CTA falsified most Blue Line track inspections–or simply didn’t bother to do them. Are you surprised, or smirking and nodding along? If you’ve followed the past few years of stupid CTA tricks under the agency’s erstwhile leader, Frank Kruesi, I’m betting the latter.

Said Cy Gura, an NTSB investigator quoted in the Chicago Tribune this week, “We found hundreds of missing records, literally hundreds.” Among the problems found under Kruesi’s watch highlighted by the NTSB:

–The worst track inspection practices and procedures of any major American transit agency.

–Eighty percent of Blue Line track inspection records simply missing, with many of the remaining records falsified…so that employees could end their shifts on time.

–Longtime, unreported deterioration, with not one of the problems leading to the derailment ever recorded by the CTA’s track inspectors, including rotted ties, corroded rail fasteners, and broken screws and tie plates (allowing the rails to give way finally under the weight of the Blue Line train, causing the July 11, 2006 derailment).

–Some stretches of track not inspected for five months, even though the CTA’s own policies require track to be inspected twice a week.

–Dangerously ineffective CTA policy that allowed the same employees who maintained the tracks to inspect their own work.

–Inoperative call boxes and emergency ventilation fans in the tunnel where the derailment occurred.

–Inability by the CTA to locate the derailed train at all for more than 20 minutes after the derailment occurred.

You may recall, back in January, then-CTA president Kruesi put out a press release announcing the firing of several track-maintenance employees. Or is that scapegoating? A quote from Kruesi as reported in the release:

“By abdicating their responsibilities, they put customers and other employees at risk. We take safety seriously at the CTA and have no room for employees who don’t.”

A fish stinks from the head, of course. Though even today, now that Kruesi is finally ousted from the transit agency in favor of ginchy–and actually effectual–major Daley golden boy Ron Huberman, there’s only the merest mention in a major daily (thank you, Sun-Times) that Frank Kruesi should shoulder the blame for the mess that was created on his watch. The man should at least share in the finger pointing. When the slew of new lawsuits arise based on the government’s finding of CTA culpability, it’s not like good ‘ole Frankie Boy is going to have to come up with the millions it may take to mollify the legitimately maddened derailment masses.

As Chicago taxpayers, we’ll be the ones ponying up, and if that doesn’t irk you now, it will the next time property taxes go up.

I give kudos to Huberman and his wise, efficient, and best of all, rider-friendly management of the CTA in the wake of the Gore-Tex wonder. Under Huberman’s leadership, all year the CTA has concentrated on fixing deteriorating track, eliminating slow zones, and improving internal procedures and organizational structures to ensure that we never have another agency misfire like the derailment of July 11, 2006, and its aftermath. He’s a darling of riders, media, and legislators (not to mention a big draw on the bar scene, pardon me while I swoon now), and deservedly so.

But while we watch our beloved transit system come back from the dead–and hopefully sidestep “Doomsday“–let’s not all collectively forget who got us so deeply into this mess in the first place. The man whom the University of Chicago recently put in charge of a public policy class. Specifically, a course entitled (wait for it folks)…Developing and Implementing Policy in the Real World.

I think I just peed a little bit.

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