Rail signals malfunctioned in dance teacher's death

April 20, 2010 4:37:09 AM PDT
Canadian National Railway has confirmed the gate and lights at a crossing in south suburban University Park were not working properly the night of a deadly crash.

Dance instructor Katie Lunn, 26, died when the train struck her SUV Friday night. Witnesses said they didn't see any warning that the train was approaching.

Canadian National said Monday night that workers have tested the crossing and it's now working properly.

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that a Canadian National Railway work crew accidentally deactivated the warning system.

Special Canadian National signal crews were brought in from out of state to deal with signal problems at the crossing Monday. The Federal Railroad Administration says there were big problems with the signals the night dance instructor Katie Lunn was killed by an Amtrak train. Officials say video from the train shows the signals were not working. Those familiar with the crossing say for weeks there had been signal problems.

"Everyone felt like something was going to happen. We weren't sure what but we just knew it was a dangerous situation," said Linda McKenith, who owns a day-care center a few feet away from the intersection.

Just before 10 o'clock on Friday night, Lunn was among a long line of cars leaving a dance competition. Driving directly in front of her was Cook County prosecutor Lauren Brown.

"I didn't understand why nothing happened, why nothing went down. And sure enough, there was a crossing gate but it just wasn't working," said Brown.

Brown said she thought she saw a train from the distance, but she said without the signals, she went ahead over the tracks.

"Had I listened to her, I would have stopped and Katie would be alive but I didn't see it," said Brown.

Brown says she cleared the tracks by just five feet before the train came speeding by. Police say the train was going 79 miles per hour when it struck Lunn. While Amtrak insists the train engineer followed proper procedure and sounded the horn in plenty of time, Brown said she didn't hear it until it was too late.

"Nothing would have indicated there was a train coming at all. It didn't honk. The only time it honked was when I was on the track," said Brown.

In a statement released earlier on Monday, Canadian national spokesman says, in part, "the circumstances of the incident are part of an ongoing investigation. Safety is our highest priority. We have and will continue to do everything within our abilities to ensure our crossings are safe for the public."

Lunn grew up in Iowa. There will be a visitation and a service for her in her hometown this weekend.


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