2 fatal train crashes prompt new call for driver caution at railroad crossings

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Two fatal train crashes prompt new call for driver caution at railroad crossings
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There is a new call for drivers to be more cautious at railroad crossings after two separate car versus train collisions that killed 6.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Six people were killed over the weekend in two separate tragedies involving trains.

Now, there is a new call for drivers to be more cautious at crossings.

In both cases, two adults and a child in the vehicles were killed. It also appears that the driver in both cases went around the lowered crossing gates.

Essence Ransbury, 5, and and Joneisha Ransberry, 38, were among the three who were killed when in a train collided with a vehicle crash in Beverly on the far South Side Sunday. A day earlier in East Chicago, three others were killed, including another 5-year-old girl, in a very similar crash.

Metra official provides update after Rock Island train collides with car, killing 3

Three people are dead after the Rock Island Metra train collided with a car Sunday.

Both horrific crashes were entirely preventable had the driver of the vehicles waited for the train to pass.

"We are talking seconds to save your life and save the lives in your vehicle," said Metra Engineer David Martinez.

Witnesses said they saw the Chevy Avalanche go around the gate at West 107th Street and South Vincennes Avenue moments before it was struck.

"The odds are, you are not going to beat it and if you do, you're lucky," Martinez said.

Martinez says "lucky," because it only takes seconds before a train at maximum speed goes through the crossing from the time the gates go down.

Surveillance video of the East Chicago crash shows the driver of the minivan ignored an activated train crossing signal and drove around a crossing gate when the vehicle was hit, police said.

RELATED: Girl, 5, among victims killed in East Chicago train, minivan crash, Lake Co. Coroner says

Pedro Trinidad, 36, Flor Carillo, 38 and Evelyn Trinidad, 5, were identified as the victims. Three other children were also hospitalized in critical condition.

While the train may look far away or be out of a driver's view at the crossing, from an engineer's perspective, it approaches very fast.

"That train will be on that crossing anywhere between 25-30 seconds from the time the first light goes off and gates go down," he added.

Sunday's crash involved a Metra train on the Rock Island Line. A simulator for the same line from the cab of the train point-of-view shows how fast a train approaches and no matter how loud an engineer can blow his horn to warn people, it's not enough to stop a train in time.

"The motorman tried to stop, he tried his best. He was blowing his horn, blowing his horn, unfortunately, he didn't have enough time," said Greg Small, who was on the Rock Island Metra train at the time of the fatal incident.

Martinez said if a passenger train is going 79 miles an hour, it can take between 3/4 and a mile to come to a complete stop.

RELATED: Girl, 5, among 3 dead in Rock Island Metra train crash with car in Beverly

"We are taking hundreds of thousands of pounds against a vehicle and at that speed, there is no way to stop it," Martinez said.

In 2017, a law went into effect doubling the fines for drivers caught going around the gates. It is now $500 for the first offense and $1000 for the second.

These deadly crashes are also very traumatic for the engineers. The incidents stay with them for their careers.

Martinez said in his 24-career, he has experienced going around the gate fatalities several times. He said lives can be saved if drivers wait just a few seconds for a train to pass.

"You can't train for that, you can't teach that," he said.