Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Union Station is falling down on commuters' heads

     One interesting aspect of this story was how I shifted from bystander to reporter. I gathered the concrete, with the man holding them, thinking they should be preserved, for the young woman who was hit. And I took a picture of the chunks, thinking I didn't want to hang onto them. But the woman was in the background, and I angled the shot to include her. I still wasn't quite in the reporter mode. I followed her and my wife back into the train car, said some reassuring words, then left with my wife.
    I got maybe 10 feet, realized this all should go in the paper, then doubled back and got the victim's name. 
     To be honest, even later, back at the office, I wondered whether I was blowing this out of proportion because I happened to be there; maybe this wasn't news, but just an incident that occurred in my vicinity.  But it seemed more real than riffing on Donald Trump's latest. Every TV station in town leapt to cover the story, so I wasn't alone in finding importance here. It felt good, catching the 9:45 to Northbrook after staying late, to see Metra had closed down the track we were on. That might not have happened had it not been in the paper.

     Union Station is dangerous. The place is falling apart in chunks, showering debris on commuters hurrying through its dim, decaying bowels. People get hurt.
     At least one person got hurt Tuesday. The Metra Milwaukee North line had just arrived on track 9 at 8:37 a.m. Passengers poured out to begin the loud, slow shuffle toward the Madison Street exit. Several pounds of concrete, blackened by soot, fell from the ceiling. A piece struck Hilda Piell, 48, of Northbrook, atop the head, fracturing her skull. She let out a cry and doubled over in pain.
      A smaller chunk also struck my wife, Edie, standing in front of Piell. But it glanced off her back, and she wasn’t badly hurt.
     “I thought somebody smashed me with their bag,” Edie said. “It was the debris that hit me, really hard. I turned around, thought maybe she had dropped her bag. There was still more stuff falling down.”
     I was next to my wife, lost in the commuter bubble, wearing Bose noise-canceling headphones. But I felt a spray of gravel and noticed Edie was gone, so I turned to see a woman crying, my wife comforting her, commuters flowing around. I yanked off the headphones; the roar of the station turned to a howl...

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  1. This is disgraceful. Maybe more lawsuits are in order. And to think what the money is being wasted on!

  2. It's platform 9/11 - no wonder it's jinxed...

  3. Wondering if the recent shift of more jackhammers in front of 222 S. Riverside is related.

    NBK->CHI Daily Rider

  4. I read the column in the paper, but there was no picture showing how big the chunks of concrete were. quite alarming!

    I expect there will be a lot of lawerly sorting out before liabitlty is determined. It does seem clear that the platforms are not technically part of Union Station.

    Tom Evans

  5. Neat how changing into "reporter mode" was associated with moving towards rather than away from involvement. One minute a "bystander," the next a "reporter," very similar to the transition from driver to pedestrian we witness every day.

    I guess suicides won't have to jump in front of trains any more; taking a stroll through the railroad station will do nicely.


  6. I am SO glad I no longer commute to Union Station. That place seems to be morphing from pit of despair to deathtrap.

    This seems like the setup for a lot of lawyerly finger-pointing. Railroads are good at that. I remember when Rachel Barton Pine, the distinguished violinist (whom I was fortunate enough to see perform not too long ago), was trapped when a train's doors closed on her backpack, with her violin inside. She was dragged under the train and her leg was severed.

    In her lawsuit, the railroad's lawyer was a complete asshole, repeatedly accusing her of causing the accident by refusing to shrug off her backpack quickly enough. Or something. I get that lawyers are supposed to advocate vigorously, but this guy was just completely obnoxious.

    Fortunately, no one will be able to accuse this poor woman of causing her own injury by standing in the wrong spot and getting in the way of the falling concrete with her head.

    I don't think so, anyway.

    Bitter Scribe

    1. A reasonably prudent woman would always be on the lookout for falling concrete. Didn't you know that?

      Moreover, the next person to get clobbered will be encountering an obviously dangerous condition and should be suitably equipped for the hazards of Union Station.


    2. A plastic construction worker's helmet would seem a sensible precaution. Also, signs should be posted. Like those useful ones telling you to look out for ice falling from tall buildings.


    3. You see the sign, glance skyward and fall flat on your face slipping on the icy sidewalk. What really puts the fear of God in your veins are the signs in California warning of falling rocks -- what are you going to do? Drive off the cliff if you see a huge boulder coming your way?


  7. I think the platforms are part of the station, but the concrete structure above is part of 10 and 120 South Riverside, which were built in the mid '60's.

  8. It's rather frightening to think this would not have been reported or the tracks closed down if Neil hadn't been "on the spot" as it were. I've taken that line into Chicago.

  9. That is scary as hell! I’ve read that people get killed when concrete comes raining down on passers by. That woman was very fortunate. I used to pass through Union Station on a daily basis. If that were me I would have sued — big time!


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