Metra: Do not cross in front of trains

March 18, 2010 4:33:25 AM PDT
It's a sight every train engineer dreads -- one split-second decision that can cost a life.

"You learn to read people's body language. You know when they're going to make a run for it. They put their heads down, maybe take a look up and go," said Bob McGuire, Metra engineer.

On Saturday morning, that's exactly what Blanca Villanueva Sanchez did as she followed her husband and daughter across the tracks. She was carrying her 1-year-old goddaughter, Maria Cruz. Both were struck and killed by the train.

The train they were rushing to catch didn't even have a scheduled stop at that station.

Metra released the video taken from the train that shows Sanchez running across the tracks in north suburban North Chicago. The tape cuts off before the collision, but knowing the outcome, it can be hard to watch.

Engineers hope releasing the video will encourage others to think twice before running in front a moving train. Metra engineer Bob McGuire says people dart in front of his train every week. Most make it, a few don't.

"It's something that definitely stays with you for a long time and never really does away. These near misses have a cumulative effect on you. You have a few in a month. Every time it happens it becomes more and more stressful," said McGuire.

"When the bells and lights are flashing that should be the message not to go on the tracks, not 'oh it's time to go,'" said Richard Oppenheim, Metra train master.

The layout of the North Chicago Metra station is such that all passengers heading for downtown have to walk across the tracks to board their train. All three of Metra's three Union Pacific Lines are set-up opposite of the way Americans drive: inbound trains to the city operate on the left track, outbound trains are on the right. Union Pacific says there are no plans to make changes because that would involve building all new stations.

For Metra engineers like Bob McGuire, their plea to the public is a simple one.

"Tthere's no reason to be that big of danger. Stop. Realize you missed your train and you're just early for the next one," said McGuire.

There have been 15 fatalities on Metra tracks in the last year. Metra says most involve people who ignore warning lights or go around closed gates.

These trains run as fast as 79 miles per hour and don't stop on a dime.

It can take as long as a mile for a Metra train to come to a complete stop.