Train strikes truck trapped by gate

July 12, 2010 3:20:56 PM PDT
A Metra train collided with a semi-trailer on the city's Northwest Side Monday morning, tying up commuters for more than one hour. The collision happened at a railroad crossing at Nagle and Avondale avenues, which has been recognized by rail officials as one of the most dangerous in the Chicago area because of the number of accidents.

At approximately 8 a.m., inbound Metra train #634 and a semi-tractor trailer both approached the grade crossing.

"I was stopped behind cars, stopped at the red light, and I was up there, you know, and it was kind of behind me," Butler said. "And [the gates] came down and went right between my tractor and my trailer, and I couldn't back up. And I looked over to my right, and I said, 'Here comes the train,' and I jumped out."

There were delays but no injuries reported as those who live and work in the area say its clear why the rail crossing is among several in the northeast region to have multiple crashes involving trains, vehicles, and pedestrians.

"They had to change this one, change things here, so the cars can stop behind that one," said Mohammed Asif who works near the railroad crossing.

Despite barrier gates in each direction and flashing lights and warning bells along the tracks owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, there have been at least five vehicle-train accidents at the crossing since 2005.

Motorists who converge on the busy intersection from five different directions are often trapped on the tracks because of bumper to bumper traffic waiting for traffic signals on either side of the crossing to turn green.

Lehigh and Chestnut rail crossings also made the list, according to the Federal Railway Administration.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, Illinois had 78 collisions at public railroad crossings last year, allowing the federal government to list Illinois among the U.S. states with the most accidents.

"The amount of highway traffic and the amount of train traffic, the combination of those two, is what we believe makes the crossing more dangerous in the context to another crossing," said Michael Stead of the Illinois Commerce Commission.

According to ICC data, the number of railroad crossing accidents in Illinois has decreased over the last 10 years from 195 in the year 2000 to 80 in 2009.

Midwest High Speed Rail Association's Rick Harnish says a federal requirement to have Illinois develop an action plan for rail crossing safety will help to expand passenger rail service in the region.

"We should be investing a lot more in grade separating so the highway and the train tracks are separated," Harnish said.

The crossing at 119th Street and I-57 also made the list. In all, there were 16 people killed and dozens injured in crossing accidents last year. The state of Illinois has the second highest number of rail crossings, behind the state of Texas.


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