Despite warnings, deaths at Illinois rail crossings trend up in 2019
It sounds so simple. A train approaches, lights flash, bells ring and a substantial gate lowers, blocking the path of pedestrians and cars.
But despite education, enforcement and physical barriers at railway crossings, Illinoisans continue to ignore the obvious dangers of strolling onto railway tracks with trains present.
In 2018, there were 87 cases of near-misses, injuries and fatalities at public railway crossings in the state. Those numbers are trending upward in 2019 with 45 through June, Federal Railroad Administration data indicates.
Sixteen people died when hit by trains at crossings in 2018 compared to nine through June in 2019, another concerning trend.
Of the 45 cases of people flouting signals and barriers in 2019, 40% occurred in the suburbs. For example, a 59-year-old man lived but suffered massive injuries when he walked past barriers and was struck by a Milwaukee District West Metra train at midday Jan. 29 in Elgin.
That's one reason Elgin police Lt. Jeff Adam hung out in a Metra parking lot in Tuesday's heat distributing notices about an enforcement blitz as part of National Rail Safety Week.
The latest scofflaw behavior quirk that Adam has noticed is pedestrians heeding lowered gates but scooting across as soon as the barriers lift regardless of bells and red lights. Illinois law requires people to wait until gates are up, bells are silenced and lights stop flashing before proceeding.
"People think, 'Well, it's just the lights and bells,'" Adam said. But those lights and bells are there for a reason, he explained.
Disregarding them is particularly dangerous at crossings with more than one track, Illinois Operation Lifesaver Director Chip Pew said.
"As the gate starts to go up, there could be a train coming from the other direction that is blocked from someone's view by the first train. We refer to it as the 'ghost train' scenario," Pew said.
On Thursday, Elgin police handed out citations to a combined six drivers and pedestrians caught flouting the law at crossings near downtown stations.
"He was a little upset," Officer John Cox said of one man's reaction to a $250 ticket after breezing past lowered gates. The excuse? "He said he wasn't aware of the law … he doesn't take the train very often," Cox said.
One more tip: Scan the tracks yourself before proceeding -- just in case.
"Don't be in such a rush," Adam said. "Stop, look and listen even if the arm isn't coming down."
You should know
Here are some other snapshots of close encounters with trains this year in the suburbs:
• At 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20, a car stopped or stalled on the tracks at Algonquin Road in Fox River Grove, where in October 1995 seven teens died in a train crash. The 21-year-old male driver escaped before a Metra train struck his vehicle.
• At 12:18 a.m. June 18, a driver ignored traffic signs and got stuck on the tracks at Bartlett Road in Elgin. He bailed out before a freight train hit his car.
• At 7:38 a.m. May 28, a pedestrian circumvented lowered gates at Villa Avenue in Villa Park. He was killed by a Metra train.
What's going on with roundabout construction in Kane County? reader Donald Hattendorf wants to know. "The roundabout being constructed at Plato Road and Route 47 seems to have come to a halt," he said.
Fear not, IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell explained. "The work continues. The goal at this time is to have all lanes open to traffic in early November, weather permitting."
Figured out the ramp spaghetti at the Reagan Memorial (I-88) and Tri-State (I-294) nexus near Oak Brook? Too bad. This week the Illinois tollway will change configurations on the ramp linking eastbound I-88 to the southbound Tri-State: Two lanes of traffic will be split with a construction zone in the middle. Drivers bailing out at York should stay to the right and you can access I-294 from both lanes.
Calling all teen artists
High school students who want to enter the Illinois tollway's annual road map art contest have until Oct. 11 to mail entries.
This year's theme recognizes the recent losses of Illinois state troopers in crashes while on duty.
For contest rules and prize information, go to https://www.illinoistollway.com/media-center/map-cover-art-contest.