When passengers bound for O'Hare boarded a CTA train early Monday morning, they could not have imagined that their train would slam into the O'Hare station, its driver asleep at the controls.
But an analysis of Federal transit safety data by NBC 5 Investigates found that the CTA ranks near the bottom of several measures of rapid transit safety.
In terms of transit deaths over the last 10 years, the CTA was number one in fatality rates, followed by the rail systems in New York, the nation's largest transit system, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.
From 2004 to 2013, the CTA reported an average of six rail fatalities a year. But most of those did not involve passengers on trains. Of the 61 fatalities reported by the agency to the Federal Transit Administration, only 5 were listed as passenger deaths. Another 36 occurred on CTA in stations and on other CTA property. The remaining 20 were pedestrians, workers, or fell into other categories.
Chicago also led the nation in collision rates, averaging 15 per year, followed by New York, San Francisco, and Washington. There were 21 collisions in both 2009 and 2010.
The CTA also reported the highest derailment rates in the last 10 years, with five reported last year alone.
The agency fared better in terms of injuries. New York led the injury category, followed by San Francisco's BART system, the CTA, and Washington's Metro.
The CTA did not agree with all of the federal numbers, and a spokesman emphasized that the system remains safer than driving, or even walking in Chicago.
"Like transit agencies throughout the country, CTA places the highest priority on safety," said spokesman Brian Steele. "We transport more than 1.6 million riders safely every day, 500 million riders each year. Our safety record is very strong, and we continually look for ways to become better in every area."
Steele argued that most fatalities over the last 10 years were the result of people making a "conscious decision to go onto the tracks," and that the majority of the agency's derailments and collisions over the last 10 years had occurred in rail yards, not on passenger carrying trains.
"CTA's No. 1 priority is safety," Steele said, "and drives every facet of our operation."