Get on board with observing rules of rail safety

Eighty-one percent of crashes at public railroad grade crossings in Illinois occur where active warning devices, such as flashing lights, ringing bells and/or gates already exist, according to government statistics.

During 2022, 129 vehicle crashes were reported at public highway-rail grade crossings, resulting in 30 fatalities and 39 personal injuries in Illinois.

An additional 62 pedestrians trespassing on railroad rights-of-way were struck by passing trains, resulting in 39 fatalities and 23 personal injuries.

Sept. 18-24 is Illinois Rail Safety Week, in conjunction with national weeklong focus on the subject. In proclaiming the designation, Gov. JB Pritzker said the aim is “to raise awareness about rail safety throughout the state — from Cook County and Sangamon County to DuPage County and Kane County — so that motorists, pedestrians and train passengers alike have the information and resources they need to keep themselves and their families safe.”

Aisha Jackson, coordinator of the nonprofit rail safety organization Illinois Operation Lifesaver, said the vast majority of incidents on railways are preventable by obeying gates, lights and bells.

“In observance of Rail Safety Week, look and listen for warning signals of an oncoming train to help drive down the number of rail-related accidents in Illinois,” she urged as part the statement from the governor’s office.

Illinois Commerce Commissioner Michael Carrigan said it’s important to regularly remind all citizens about guidelines when crossing tracks.

“Being informed about rail safety saves lives,” he said. “The knowledge of what railroad signs and signals mean for both drivers and pedestrians is a critical component of the ICC’s ongoing rail safety efforts.”

Locally, Hinsdale’s Lanny Wilson helped establish the DuPage County Railroad Safety Council nearly three decades ago to prevent tragedies along the tracks, like the accident that took the life of daughter Lauren when the car she was riding in was hit by a train at the village’s Monroe Street crossing.

As a result of the group’s advocacy, Illinois has gone from having no four-quadrant gates to 137, the most in any state, including one at the Monroe crossing.

Here are rules to keep in mind:

• Cross the tracks only at a designated public crossing with a crossbuck, flashing red lights or a gate.

• 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.

• Before driving across, be sure there is space on the other side to completely clear the tracks.

• If your vehicle gets stuck or stalls at a crossing, get everyone out and far away immediately, even if you do not see a train. Call the number on the Blue and White Emergency Notification System or dial 911.

• Trains may be closer and traveling faster than they appear and can run on any track at any time. Multiple tracks may mean multiple trains. Ensure you can clearly see down the tracks in both directions before proceeding — and never try to beat a train.