By Adrienne Fawcett
The Grayslake woman who was killed in last week's railroad accident was not
the first person to collide with a train at the Metra
station in west
It goes without saying---or rather it should go
without saying--that people need to pay attention to
railroad warning signs. But no matter how you look at it, the number of
collisions is jarring. GazeboNews wanted to know:
Does the Metra station at
The answer to the first question is yes. Stephen Laffey
is a railroad safety specialist for the Illinois Commerce Commission, which
keeps records of and investigates train-related incidents throughout the state.
He said three fatalities in six years puts the west
The second question is harder to answer, mainly because bad luck and human
error had wrenching consequences in the west
Could anyone or any entity have done anything to prevent these accidents?
“It’s not our property, it’s Metra’s. It would not
be for us to do,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari
when asked if Amtrak has considered making changes in light of the accidents in
Metra’s response to that question was similar. "Our mantra is expect a train from any direction at any time. If the warning lights are flashing, do not cross the tracks," said spokeswoman Meg Reile. "People need to take responsibility for themselves and use common sense."
On Thursday, Dec. 17, representatives from Amtrak, Metra
and several other parties will hold a summit about the west
"It’s easy for people to say it's Metra's fault or it’s Amtrak’s fault or it's the Lake Forest Police Department's fault, but that's looking at it the wrong way," said Chip Pew, railroad safety specialist and ICC's state coordinator of Operation Lifesaver, a rail-safety advocacy and educational group. "We want to discuss what each of us can do to come up with a solution, rather than saying it's someone else’s problem."
can be done to prevent tragic pedestrian-train collisions? In 2005, the
ICC issued a report that analyzed 39 pedestrian-train incidents in northeastern
Would people adhere to them?
"If there are lights and bells and a sign, is it the station that's unsafe or is it the behavior of the people?" asked Mr. Pew. He stressed that he did not want to sound insensitive to the issue of train fatalities. "I take all of these personally. I know I am not the cause of them, but every time it happens I think, 'is this a situation where we just have not gotten the message out? Or is it a situation where we've given it to them and for some reason they're not getting it?' "
Many commuters seem to consider railroad bells to be an alarm telling them
it's time to cross the tracks rather than a warning that it's time to stay off
the tracks. Perhaps they don't realize that when railroad bells start ringing,
a train can legally be in a station within 20 seconds. And that even though
When asked how often trains run off-schedule, Mr. Pew said that at stations such west Lake Forest, a person who commutes regularly could assume that a train will come through the station off schedule one out of every 10 times the commuter is on the platform. “I know this doesn’t sound logical to a normal person. You may run in front of that train 999 times out of 1,000. But it’s not worth the risk,” he said.
But back to the question of whether anything can be done to prevent future tragedies such as the one that took Teresa Spradlin’s life last week.
In recent months, Metra has taken steps to expand
the scope of its automated announcement system. For several years, Metra has been using satellite tracking to measure the
position of its trains, which it uses to make automated, on-board announcements
when a train is a certain distance from a station. Six months ago, Metra broadened the GPS-based system to include automated
announcements on platforms. The announcements say something like: "May I
have your attention. An outbound (or inbound) train will be arriving in
approximately six minutes." Ms. Reile said
the GPS system is in all of Metra's stations,
There are drawbacks: Announcements are made on platforms and not inside the stations, and they're not made when Amtrak or freight trains are arriving.
Ms. Reile said it would be cost prohibitive to expand the GPS system to announce Amtrak trains as they approach a station. "Amtrak would have to have our GPS monitoring equipment on their trains---all of their trains. They don't just stay in this region. They would have to potentially equip every Amtrak train in the country at a time when no one has the money to do those things. And there would have to be further tying in of technologies, which is also money driven," she said.
Many commuters believe the station in west
That puts public education and enforcement at the top of the list. GazeboNews will report more on that in a day or two.
If you cross railroad tracks when you're not supposed to in
"When I first started doing this, I used to write 10 to 12 tickets at a time. But after a couple of years, I noticed a change in behavior, so I thought we should have positive reinforcement too," said Cdr. Kveton. "I went to local businesses and got coupons for bagels, fries, coffee. I gave tickets to people disobeying the warning signs, and I gave coupons to people who were obeying the warning signs."