Railroad safety work is impressive, unfinished
Last updated 9/18/2019 at 4:22pm | View PDF
When we see tragedies taking place in other communities or other parts of the country, it’s not unusual to think “That wouldn’t happen here.”
Of course as wonderful a community as Hinsdale is, it offers no real protection from loss.
No one knows that better than the family of Hinsdale’s Lauren Wilson, whose life was cut short when the car she was riding in on March 2, 1994, was hit by a train at the village’s Monroe Street crossing.
Her father, Dr. Lanny Wilson, has spent the quarter century since working as chair of the DuPage County Railroad Safety Council to prevent further tragedies along the tracks. The council’s mission is to prevent deaths and injuries at railroad crossings and along railways.
As we approach the start of the sixth annual Illinois Rail Safety Week (Sept. 22-28), sponsored in part by he DuPage Railroad Safety Council, it seems a fitting time to highlight that group’s work.
The council supports four-quadrant gates and would like to see them installed at every highway-rail grade crossing in the Chicago area.
In 1994, when the DuPage Railroad Safety Task Force first formed, there were no four-quadrant gates in Illinois. Today there are 137, the most in any state. One is at the Monroe Street crossing.
The council also supports the “Sealed Corridor” approach used in North Carolina as a cost-effective measure for more densely populated areas like the one we live in.
Through the council’s efforts, the first photo enforcement pilot project at railroad crossings took place in DuPage County. The council also has lobbied for tougher penalties for those who cross the tracks when the gates are down.
While the number of vehicle/train collisions is down, trespasser and suicide incidents are on the rise. The council supports the increased use of pedestrian gates, appropriate fencing, pedestrian bike under- and overpasses, channelization and suicide prevention measures. It has set an ambitious goal of reducing trespassing and suicide fatalities by 50 percent by 2026.
The council’s work has not gone unnoticed. It has received a host of awards from groups like the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Federal Railroad Administration.
Of course there’s still more to be done.
Illinois ranked fifth in 2018 for the most highway-rail grade crossing collisions, with 109 incidents. Seventeen people were killed and 34 were injured.
Hinsdale police offer the following tips to ensure safety when near railroad tracks:
• Do not walk on railroad tracks or in the right of way on either side of the tracks or climb on rail cars.
• Cross the tracks only at a designated public crossing with a crossbuck, flashing red lights or a gate. Crossing at any other place is trespassing.
• Do not cross the tracks until you can see clearly in each direction after the first train passes, as there may be a second train approaching.
• Wait until the crossing signals stop and gates go up to legally cross the tracks.
• Trust the signals, not the senses. A train’s position may be closer or approaching speed faster than one may perceive.
• Use extra caution when crossing tracks with a wheelchair, baby stroller or with any other item that has narrow wheels.
• Always cross the tracks at a 90-degree angle.
We encourage all Hinsdaleans to support the work of the council either directly, by donating talents or resources, or indirectly, by exhibiting and encouraging responsible behavior near train tracks. Save lives. Prevent tragedy.