Last year, Illinois ranked second in the nation in highway-rail fatalities, with nearly 25 percent of vehicle/train collisions occurring at crossings with active warning devices, including lights, gates and bells, according to Illinois Operation Lifesaver.
Now, a bill awaiting the governor’s signature aims to address that issue by doubling the fines for drivers who try to cross railroad tracks after the signals are activated and gates are down.
The Illinois House passed an amendment to the Illinois Vehicle Code in late May that increases the penalties for driving over tracks with activated rail signals from $250 to $500 for a first offense and from $500 to $1,000 for a second or subsequent offense.
If this legislation becomes law, Illinois will have some of the strictest penalties in the nation for these types of vehicular offenses.
“Drivers who think they can beat a train on the tracks often suffer dangerous and deadly consequences,” said bill sponsor Sen. Karen McConnaughay (R-33rd District). “I hope these increased fines will help make drivers think twice before deciding to take their chances and put their lives at risk at railroad crossings.”
“These incidents are entirely avoidable,” said bill sponsor Rep. Michael W. Tryon (R-66th District). “With the second largest rail system in the nation, we must do all we can to help discourage and prevent injuries and fatalities on railroad tracks.”
The legislation was initiated by Metra this spring as part of a larger initiative to help promote rail safety awareness and eliminate preventable injuries and deaths at highway-rail grade crossings. The House passed Senate Bill 2806 with 113-0 vote. The bill was approved by theSenate on April 21.
“Our message is simple: when the gates are down, stay off the tracks or you will pay the price through these increased fines or worse,” said Don Orseno, Metra’s Executive Director/CEO.
“In addition to the potential and tragic loss of life, collisions that occur at our railroad crossings can impact thousands of Metra customers, who can be delayed for hours at a time, and can also delay motorists.”
Illinois has the second-largest rail system of any state with more than 7,300 miles of railroad track and 10,363 public highway-rail crossings. In 2015, Illinois also had the third-highest number of rail crossing collisions (140, behind Texas and California), the second-highest number of rail crossing fatalities (24, behind California) and the third-highest number of rail crossing injuries (79, behind Texas and North Carolina), according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Two hundred and forty-four people died in highway-rail crashes nationwide in 2015. A pedestrian or vehicle-train collision occurs every 3 hours on average nationwide.
In March, Metra announced plans to conduct Operation Lifesaver Safety Blitzes at 45 train stations across its six-county service area in 2016 as part of its ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the importance of safe behavior around its trains and tracks.
Metra also promotes safety through its annual Safety Poster and Essay Contest for the region’s schoolchildren and by conducting nearly 1,000 free Operation Lifesaver presentations annually to schools, community groups, school bus drivers, professional truck drivers, emergency responders and other organizations throughout the region.
Operation Lifesaver is a national organization that works to educate and promote safe behavior near the tracks by offering free rail safety education programs. The organization’s work is co-sponsored by local, state and federal government agencies, highway safety organizations and America’s railroads.
SOURCE: Metra news release
Metra is one of the largest and most complex commuter rail systems in North America, serving Cook, DuPage, Will, Lake, Kane and McHenry counties in Northeastern Illinois. The agency provides service to and from downtown Chicago with 241 stations over 11 routes totaling nearly 500 route miles and approximately 1,200 miles of track. Metra operates more than 700 weekday trains, providing about 300,000 passenger trips each weekday. Like Metra on Facebook, follow Metra on Twitter @Metra or visit metrarail.com.