You sit in the same seat in the same car.
So you probably feel like you don’t need to pay much attention to the train and railroad crossings during your morning hustle. That couldn’t be further from the truth, according to Metra’s Public Safety Coordinator, Larry Green.
“You still need to be cognizant of trains,” Green said. “It’s important that people pay attention. Put the phone down, take the earbuds out and pay attention.”
Green recently spread this message to BNSF commuters at the Hinsdale Station during an Operation Lifesaver Safety Blitz. He handed out pamphlets that stress railroad crossing safety, pens and keychain flashlights to some of the nearly 1,000 commuters who board there during the morning rush.
In 2017, Metra will complete 51 Operation Lifesaver Safety Blitzes at stations throughout the six-county service area. Employees from Metra’s Safety Department, as well as officials from Operation Lifesaver, the Federal Railroad Administration and local police and fire departments work together to promote safe behavior around trains and railroad tracks.
Educators stress the importance of remaining vigilant. The pamphlets offer reminders that a passenger train traveling 79 mph can take a mile or more to come to a complete stop. That being the case, it’s important to stand behind the yellow line, obey crossing warning signals and refrain from crossing the tracks immediately after your train passes, as another one might be near.
During the May 4 event in Hinsdale, Operation Lifesaver Board Member Dave Phillips said he, like Green, wished commuters would be less distracted on their way to the train.
“If your nose is buried in a book, if your nose is buried in a phone, you can walk into the side of the building. You can walk onto the tracks,” Phillips said.
Chances are high residents in northeastern Illinois will encounter railroad tracks. Illinois has the second-largest rail system in the nation with more than 7,300 miles of railroad track and 10,363 public highway-rail crossings. In 2015, Illinois ranked second in the nation in rail fatalities at highway rail crossings and ranked third in the nation in collisions at rail crossings. Last year, 44 people were killed and 60 more were injured in railroad incidents in Illinois. Twenty-two of these reported fatalities occurred at rail crossings.
Green and his peers hope to reduce those numbers through educational events such as safety blitzes and school presentations. Metra safety officials also partner with local emergency responders, who are often the first ones on scene when a tragedy occurs.
“We have several railroad crossings in Hinsdale,” Hinsdale Deputy Police Chief Erik Bernholdt said. “It’s always important to give residents, pedestrians and motorists a reminder about safety around the railroad tracks.”
When safety reminders don’t work, Metra and local police turn to enforcement to ensure pedestrians and motorists do not violate the grade crossing warning devices. Metra’s Safety Department coordinates with Metra Police, local police agencies and freight railroads to conduct periodic grade crossing enforcement blitzes. In Illinois, fines for disobeying railroad safety devices start at $500.
“We all want to make it home safely,” Green said. “That’s the goal.”
To learn more about the safety efforts at Metra, visit the safety page at metrarail.com.