Barrington officials say Thursday's rush-hour collision between a freight train and a semitrailer truck on Route 14 only strengthens their argument for a grade separation at the railroad crossing.
Village President Karen Darch and Village Manager Jeff Lawler say at least the point didn't have to be made more tragically. Two people were taken to Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital with minor injuries after the truck was struck by the train at 6 p.m. at the Canadian National Railway crossing, and subsequently struck four other vehicles.
One of the injured people was a motorist not in the truck and the other was a police officer who responded to the scene, Barrington Fire Chief Jim Arie said.
"All things considered, there were a lot of lucky people," he added.
Thankfully, the train itself did not derail and the truck wasn't carrying any volatile chemicals, Lawler said.
"That would have been a game changer," he said.
The scene was not completely cleared until 10:50 p.m., snarling traffic for nearly five hours.
"The traffic implications were unbelievable, even for the emergency responders," Darch said.
Though the crash investigation is still in progress, Barrington Assistant Police Chief David Dorn said it appears the westbound semitrailer truck didn't quite clear the crossing before the southbound train struck the rear of it.
The truck was sent spinning parallel to the tracks -- across the entire width of the road -- causing a chain-reaction collision with four other westbound vehicles.
Preliminary indications are that backed up traffic from Route 59 to the west interfered with the truck driver's ability to clear the tracks.
"There's no other explanation for why traffic would be stopped in that lane," Dorn said.
Witnesses reported that the gates and warning lights on the tracks were operational and that the truck driver -- a man in his 50s -- miscalculated his ability to clear the tracks, Dorn said.
"There will be citations, but we don't know what the charges will be at this point," he added.
Dorn couldn't comment on the nature of the injury suffered by a responding police officer but said that officer had already been released from the hospital.
Barrington is lobbying for both permission and funding to build an overpass or underpass for Route 14 at the crossing. The Illinois Department of Transportation would do the work.
Though the crossing has existed for decades, the impetus for the grade separation is that CN is expected to gradually increase its freight traffic on the railroad line it purchased in January 2009.
Though the recession slowed this increase for a while, the pace is picking up again, Lawler said.
Before CN bought the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern railroad, three to five freight trains per day was about the norm on the line, he said. But even during the recession, CN was predicting up to 20 trains per day by 2015, he added.
Already, the village is counting about 12 freight trains per day through town. And CN has requested that any grade separation at the crossing be designed to be double-tracked -- suggesting an ability to exceed 25 trains per day, Lawler said.
CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said the company would be involved with the engineering of any grade separation that may happen in Barrington, just as it is with any grade separation along its routes. But the push for this particular separation was initiated entirely by Barrington, he added.
The train involved in this accident was 10,000 feet long, Lawler said. And this crossing is the only place in Illinois where the CN tracks cross a U.S. highway without a grade separation, he added.
"The reality is that Route 14 is (Barrington's) heaviest arterial road in terms of the traffic that traverses it daily," Lawler said. "We were just fortunate (Thursday), but in the long term, I think reasonable people would agree there's a potential for this to happen again."
While the cause of the accident remains under investigation, Darch and Lawler agreed it never would have happened at all with a grade separation.
"It's not the railroad's fault, but it doesn't have to be their fault for us to end up with a much more tragic situation," Lawler said.
While he believes the incident does strengthen the argument for a grade separation, he doesn't think it necessarily affects the dilemma of whether to go with an underpass or overpass.
The underpass option currently under consideration would cost $55 million to $65 million and require the razing of eight homes, 10 businesses and the relocation of Flint Creek.
The overpass option would cost $40 million to $50 million and require the loss of only one home. Nevertheless, the overpass idea has generally inspired more negative opinions from neighboring residents and government agencies for its 30-foot-tall elevation.
At a public input meeting at Barrington High School last month, several affected homeowners said they'd rather lose their houses to the underpass than live next to the overpass.
The village and IDOT are still sifting through written opinions from the public and a single option isn't expected to be narrowed down until nearly the end of 2013.
Even if it does goes forward, the two-year construction project would not even begin for at least four to five years, Lawler said.