What Caused the Deadly Metra Explosion on Chicago’s Northwest Side?

Metra track inspector Omar Solis died in a gas explosion in November 2018 and investigators are working to determine whether the negligence of his employer contributed to his death. Solis died while welding track on the Milwaukee District Line. It is believed that a leaking propane gas tank on the truck exploded causing his death.

One Man Killed, One Man Seriously Injured

Omar Solis died within 45 minutes of the 11:30 am explosion. Both he and his co-worker were treated at Illinois Masonic Medical Center. The emergency response team was able to stabilize the co-worker’s condition. However, Solis’ injuries were too severe and he succumbed at 12:11 pm. This was the first fatality of a Metra employee since 2013.

The Unknown Cause of the Explosion

The incident that claimed Omar Solis’ life occurred less than a week after teams of Metra employees were dispatched to the same location to perform maintenance work. At the time of the blast, 17 Metra workers were at the location. They were tasked with welding, cutting bolts from the tracks, and performing other routine maintenance tasks.

It is currently unclear whether or not the activities of the previous crew, or whether poor maintenance of the vehicle’s propane tank contributed to causing the explosion that killed Omar Solis. What is known is that significant amounts of fuel would have been required to cause the size of the explosion and the types of injuries sustained.

The Responsibility of the Railroad

Metra has a duty of care that includes ensuring that all employees are properly trained in the use of required equipment and procedures they must adhere to. Their duty includes ensuring that maintenance on tracks is performed in accordance with state and federal regulations. They must also ensure that maintenance of equipment, including propane tanks, is performed promptly and properly.

Unfortunately, Metra does not have the best safety record. They have faced numerous investigations stemming from previous incidents. In the past, the Federal Railroad Administration has investigated Metra for problems that affect passenger safety and workplace safety.

If it is determined during the investigation that Metra’s negligence contributed to causing the death of Omar Solis, they could face significant fines and penalties. However, more important would be stricter safety controls, improved maintenance, and greater adherence to established procedures that could prevent a repeat of similar explosive events in the future.