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updated: 5/24/2016 8:54 PM

State gets tougher on rail-crossing scofflaws

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  • Firefighters extinguish a fire that resulted after a Metra train struck an SUV on the Union Pacific tracks near Northwest Highway and Euclid Avenue in Arlington Heights.

      Firefighters extinguish a fire that resulted after a Metra train struck an SUV on the Union Pacific tracks near Northwest Highway and Euclid Avenue in Arlington Heights.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, January 2016

 
 

It blends into the suburban landscape -- cars waiting in line behind lowered gates as Metra or freight trains rumble through street-level crossings.

But 140 times last year in Illinois, that familiar sight turned into an emergency when a driver or pedestrian collided with a train.

The Illinois House Tuesday approved legislation aimed at discouraging motorists from driving around lowered crossing gates by doubling the fines.

First-time offenders went from $250 to $500. Repeat violators would now pay $1,000 instead of $500.

Illinois had the second highest number of rail-crossing deaths in the U.S. last year.

Out of the 24 fatalities in 2015, nearly one-quarter occurred at crossings with warning devices such as bells and gates.

In January this year, a Rolling Meadows woman died when her SUV exploded after being hit by an oncoming Metra train on the Union Pacific Railroad tracks near Northwest Highway and Euclid in Arlington Heights. She had driven around lowered crossing gates and was trying to make a turn, police said.

Metra lobbied for the higher fines.

"In addition to the potential and tragic loss of life, collisions that occur at our railroad crossings can impact thousands of Metra customers, who can be delayed for hours at a time, and can also delay motorists," CEO Don Orseno said in a statement. The Senate approved the policy April 21.

It now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign.

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