Almost every week for several months, the Review’s police blotter has included reports of vandalism of CTA train cars. The Review reached out to the CTA to find out more about these crimes, including the costs associated with graffiti removal and what the consequences are when subjects are caught.
Two CTA train lines, the Green and Blue, end – or begin – in Forest Park. Train cars not in use sit at the stations, making them more vulnerable to would-be graffiti artists.
The Blue Line in particular ends in what’s called “the jungle,” the area between I-290 and Concordia Cemetery, west of the Desplaines Avenue terminal, thus named because it used to be overgrown with thick bushes and trees, said Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas. The CTA, Aftanas said, cleared a lot of the overgrowth away over a year ago at the village’s request to increase visibility to passing officers. Even so el cars here have been the canvas for multiple incidences of graffiti over the past year.
Aftanas said the problem isn’t new; the trains have always been targeted. Other areas with frequent issues with graffiti on train cars are Evanston, Rosemont and points in the city where the lines end.
It’s not the vandalism itself that worries CTA officials the most, though. According to a CTA media representative, “The CTA’s number one concern is safety. Graffiti/vandalism is not only a crime, it is also extremely dangerous. When vandals trespass unlawfully into our secure rail yards and other protected areas, they are risking their lives or subjecting themselves to life-altering injuries.”
Graffiti is generally done under the cover of night, when it’s more difficult for vandals to see where they’re going. “This can result in them falling and sustaining injury or worse, such as making contact with the third rail or an approaching vehicle,” the CTA said.
Forest Park Deputy Police Chief Ken Gross said he’s not aware of any vandals being electrocuted on the train lines in town, although other individuals have succumbed to that fate over the years he’s been working for the village.
Vandalism of CTA property isn’t a crime to be taken lightly. Not only is it dangerous; it’s a felony offense, with a potential sentence of one to five years in jail and fines up to $25,000.
In Forest Park specifically, the CTA representative said the Blue Line has seen “a slight uptick” in graffiti this year. The graffiti, however, is generally not gang-related but is considered more of the “street art” style of painting.
Trains that are marked are taken out of service until they can be cleaned, which can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars per incident, which includes the cost of time spent out of service in addition to the actual clean-up expenses.
Annually, graffiti-related crimes are expensive for the CTA. “Taken in total, this kind of vandalism represents hundreds of thousands of dollars in clean-up costs each year,” said the CTA. “This is money that would be much better spent on providing additional service to customers or upgrading our facilities.
In addition to working with the Forest Park Police Department, the CTA employs a security firm to conduct “weekly graffiti missions” across the rail system and has in place an “extensive video camera network” to combat the dangers and costs of train-car vandalism.
The last time a tagger was caught in town was this past January, when two males were apprehended and charged with criminal trespass but not with tagging because they weren’t caught in the act. Cans of spray paint were found in their backpacks.
Although uncertain if the local CTA train tagging’s being done by the same individual or group, Gross said graffiti artists often work in crews.