Drivers were trapped in their cars with nowhere to go as the Metra train came barreling toward them. It was Thanksgiving eve two years ago, and traffic was heavy at the Grand Avenue crossing. The train, bound for Antioch, was travelling at up to 70 miles an hour when it smashed into several cars, destroying six and damaging a dozen more.
NTSB investigators were called to investigate immediately. And in the wake of the crash, state safety officials made numerous changes and vowed to do more, including building a bridge or tunnel. But more than two years later, that has yet to happen, much to the disappointment of NTSB members.
"I don't want to go back or my colleagues want to go back and talk to families that lost their loved ones when we had a solution for them. It's not like we can't figure this one out. We figured it out, time to act," Mark Rosenker, NTSB chair.
The board watched a presentation that included a picture of a school bus trapped between lowered crossing gates. Board members recalled the crash ten years earlier in Fox River Grove in which a speeding train hit a school bus full of students. Five were killed; 27 more injured.
A study prompted by that crash identified the Elmwood Park crossing as the most dangerous in the state. But NTSB staffers defended the state, saying it would cost $100 million to separate the crossing from traffic.
"They want the grade separated. They just haven't been able to. It is not that the cost outweighs benefit. It is the cost outweighs their entire budget," said Debbie Horsman, NTSB.
Illinois Department of Transportation officials agreed, saying that intersections is as safe as they can make without spending at least $75 million.