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“Bad things happen, but there are always good people.” Survivors recall the 50th anniversary of the bloodiest disaster in Chicago history. – Chicago Tribune

Survivors and family members of those killed in a train crash 50 years ago that killed 45 passengers and injured 331 gathered Sunday to commemorate the deadliest train crash in Chicago history.

Ald. Sophia King, 4th, and the city of Chicago have designated this date as an official day of remembrance. “Tragic incidents often remind us of our humanity and the fragility of our humanity,” King said before reading the city’s proclamation.

Gregory Bottner, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago Heights, said the service, held at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago in the Hyde Park neighborhood, was more than just a reenactment of the historic moment.

“We are here to honor those who died, the survivors, the first responders, the extended network of friends and family, and those who were on the tracks that day,” Boettner said. “But we’re here to make sense of a senseless tragedy.”

At st the morning of October 30, 1972, a northbound Illinois Central commuter train sped past one of the station stops. The train reversed around the curve to the platform at the 27th Street station to allow passengers to disembark. The second train was given the green light to proceed on the same route.

At 7:27, the trains collided.

Louise Lavar, one of the survivors, said she remembers the day well. It was Monday when Lavar boarded train #416, which is described as a “double-decker tin can mountaineer.” Lovar was going to work downtown that day after an interview at the University of Chicago near her Woodlawn home was rescheduled.

“I’m one of the lucky ones who survived despite having potentially fatal internal bleeding,” Lavar said.

Lisa Clare, another survivor, was on train #720, described as an old heavy steel train with a concrete floor and wicker seats. Klara, a high school student, was with two friends. The trio sat in the front seat of the front car behind the motorman. The conversation that morning was about how fast the train was moving, she said. At that moment, the driver appeared in front of them and shouted that the train was going to cut.

“We woke up to find ourselves wrapped in twisted metal,” Clara said. All she could hear was the rustle of footsteps on the gravel. Then Clara said she heard a voice, “Don’t tell me there’s anyone alive in there.”

“That was the moment we realized something very bad had happened,” she said. “We didn’t understand that at all.”

Claire also remembered the kindness of others, especially the first responders who administered pain injections and set up triage on the train platform.

“Bad things happen, but there are always good people, and that’s what fascinates me,” Clare said.

Among the 45 dead was one of Clara’s friends. It took six hours to get everyone, dead and alive, off the train.

The names of the deceased aged between 18 and 62 were read at the service.

An NTSB report released a year after the accident said it was caused by the first train reversing, while the second train’s driver, who was traveling faster than the recommended speed, failed to notice in time to stop and avoid a collision. The report said “ambiguous regulations” regarding the signaling system also contributed. The Illinois Central is now defunct and the train line is operated by Metra. Metra Electric trains run along this route.

Lavar and Klara did not know each other at the time the trains collided. But the two reconnected more than two decades later when a story about Lovar appeared in the Tribune on another anniversary. The women longed to talk to someone who understood what they were going through, and corresponded.

On Sunday, they invited other people affected by the train crash to tell their stories.

Lisa Clare reads her story of surviving the 1972 Illinois Central train crash that killed 45 people and injured 332 more during the 50th anniversary memorial service and memorial service at First Unitarian Church in Chicago on October 30, 2022. in Hyde Park in Chicago.

Brenda Innis was one of several people who spoke about how the traumatic event changed her life.

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Her father had attended a Halloween party the night before with his five children and three grandchildren.

“We didn’t know that would be the last time we would see him alive,” Innis said.

Her younger sister Deborah was traveling on train number 720, but the conductor refused to let her on the train for unknown reasons. The conductor closed the door in her face.

“She would have been on the train that hit the first train,” Innis said.

She said that getting on the train after her father’s death was not easy.

“It was maybe 15 years before I even got on a train to go downtown,” Innis said. “It doesn’t feel like it was 50 years ago.”



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