Almost every day somebody climbs or falls onto the CTA tracks, which has led to seven deaths so far in 2013 and more than 50 fatalities in recent years, according to an analysis the transit agency is set to release Monday as part of a redoubled rail-safety campaign.
The deaths stem from both bad decisions and simple mistakes, such as going after a dropped electronic device, standing too close to platform edges, intoxication and horsing around in the shadow of powerful trains and the electrified third rail, the analysis found.
Warnings posted throughout the CTA system to keep away from the tracks may seem awfully obvious, but the message isn't getting through to some CTA riders, according to transit officials, who on Monday will launch the campaign aboard CTA trains and at rail stations.
In fact, the safety effort comes as the number of reported right-of-way incidents has increased each year since 2010, CTA records show.
Most of the people killed on the rail right of way during roughly the past 51/2 years died from being hit by trains or from falls, while about 20 percent were electrocuted when they came in contact with the 600-volt third rail, a breakdown of incidents revealed.
In addition to the personal tragedies that can result, trespassing often inconveniences thousands of commuters because each time an incident is reported, the CTA control center orders the electricity temporarily shut off while transit authority investigators and the Chicago Fire Department do their work, officials said.
The problem of intentional and accidental trespassers on the CTA right of way is as old as rail transit in Chicago, which dates to the late 1800s. The difference is that 115 years ago no commuter was leaping onto the tracks to retrieve a mobile phone.
Last year, 349 incidents involving individuals on the right of way were reported, which represents a 4 percent increase from 2011. Some 205 incidents have been reported this year through July 31, officials said.
There have certainly been more, but these are the incidents CTA officials know about, because they were recorded by video surveillance cameras mounted at all 145 CTA rail stations.
One of the more frightening recent incidents caught on camera occurred at the Damen Blue Line station around 1:30 a.m. on July 23. A photo provided to the Tribune by the CTA shows a train approaching as a man runs across both sets of tracks, from one platform to the other. All eyes from the crowd at the edge of the platform were on the man to see whether he would make it. He did and moments later boarded the train before authorities could catch up to him, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said.
Trespassing on the right of way is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in prison and a possible court-sanctioned fine. But very few arrests are made each year because most violators leave the tracks shortly after they enter, CTA officials said.
The new safety blitz is dubbed "Stay off the tracks. It's not worth your life." It includes safety posters designed to grab attention, depicting people dangerously close to moving trains.
"People ride our trains day in and day out, and things become routine. We hope this campaign will make people pause for a second to think about safety again, to remember there is a third rail and it is dangerous," said Araceli De La Cruz, CTA's chief safety and security officer.
"There are certain behaviors that, at first, may seem innocent or quick and easy but can turn fatal," De La Cruz said.
Even people who think they have a healthy respect for trains and possess good survival instincts still too often tempt danger, officials said. Every day, transit officials say, they see waiting passengers standing on the platform's blue tactile edging and leaning toward the tracks while looking to see whether a train is approaching. An accidental brush from a passing bystander on a crowded platform or simply losing one's balance could have tragic consequences.
To discourage such behavior, one of the new safety posters shows a man leaning off the platform. The printed warning says, "Don't worry, it's coming."
Another poster shows a mobile phone on the tracks with a train pulling into the station as, inches away, a man is already jumping onto the tracks. The caption says: "You can live without it for a few minutes. If you drop your phone on the tracks, don't jump down to get it. Inform a CTA employee, who will help you."
The CTA's advice to anybody who ends up on the tracks is to seek help from someone on the platform, particularly a CTA employee.
"If you are able to move, go toward the platform. But avoid touching any rail whatsoever," De La Cruz said.
Most of the 52 deaths that the CTA has tracked since 2008 occurred on the Red and Blue Lines, the transit agency's busiest rail routes.