It’s early. You arrive at your station and hustle to the platform all caught up in your morning routine, running through your mental “to do” list, catching up with the news on your smartphone, texting or simply listening to music. Most likely the last thing on your mind is safety. But at Metra, it’s the first thing on our minds.
Metra takes a multi-faceted approach to ensuring that you and your loved ones arrive safely at your destinations. From the signage and platform announcements to the conductors making sure that you board and alight from your trains smoothly, safety is a part of our culture. We proactively work to educate our riders and the public about how to act safely around our tracks and our trains.
Through outreach programs such as Operation Lifesaver and crossing enforcement blitzes, Metra’s Safety Department works daily to educate the public about the importance of safety. Our Operation Lifesaver team conducts about 1,000 free presentations across the region annually for schoolchildren at all levels, school bus drivers, truck drivers, emergency responders and other organizations. Our goal is to enhance awareness of the hazards of disregarding pedestrian and roadway railroad warning devices and prevent accidents involving trains.
Metra’s annual Safety Poster and Essay Contest is yet another way we engage our region’s youngest residents about railroad safety, allowing them to take what they’ve learned through Operation Lifesaver presentations and classroom safety instruction to create their own safety messages. Through the contest website (www.metracontest.com), teachers, parents and students can access classroom materials and information about railroad safety.
The safety team also goes out to about 50 stations a year to conduct safety blitzes, distributing literature and talking to our customers about respecting the warning devices and following other behaviors that will ensure their safety near our trains.
Sometimes simply talking and teaching about safety isn’t enough, and that’s where our enforcement programs come into play. Our Safety Department, in coordination with Metra Police, local police agencies and freight railroads across the region, also conduct periodic grade crossing enforcement blitzes to ensure pedestrians and motorists do not violate the grade crossing warning devices. And if our employees or customers report safety concerns at a particular location, we schedule additional enforcement activities for those locations. The intention is to keep everyone who comes in contact with our railroad safe, and in some cases this requires that we issue a warning or a formal citation. In Illinois, fines for disobeying railroad safety devices start at $500.
“Our goal with enforcement blitzes is not to punish our passengers but to remind them of the importance of putting their safety first,” said Metra Director of Safety Hilary Konczal. “The dangers to anyone disobeying railroad gates and signals are very real. People don’t think that it could happen to them and unfortunately this can lead to making unsafe decisions with potentially tragic consequences.”
Metra’s safety outreach also extends to our region’s emergency responders. When an unfortunate event occurs on the railroad, local police and fire agencies are often the first on the scene and need to understand how to safely conduct themselves around our tracks and equipment. Metra’s Manager of Emergency Preparedness, Tom Donegan, is responsible for ensuring all emergency responders of the 110 plus communities we travel through are trained in evacuating Metra’s equipment in the event of a major derailment or incident. This training is required by federal regulation and is offered free.
Metra Emergency Preparedness Manager Tom Donegan, left, and BNSF Railway conductor Bobby Mitchell discuss train evacuation procedures with Chicago Police cadets during a training session in the BNSF yard.
Metra currently has a dedicated classroom at the Chicago Police Academy and the Chicago Fire Academy where all new recruits are given the training as part of their curriculum. Metra also regularly schedules training with local municipalities across the region and in June participated in an all-day training session with our freight partner, the CN, in Lake Forest. The event drew 50 police and firefighters from 21 agencies across Lake County. In addition to training about Metra service and equipment, the CN provided training on crossing accidents and hazardous materials. Metra also conducts full-scale disaster drills with local police, fire and EMS on an annual basis. The drills held at various locations across the region give participating first responders the opportunity to train for an actual emergency.
To extend our outreach efforts, Metra partners with several transportation and railroad safety organizations dedicated to enhancing railroad safety in addition to the national Operation Lifesaver organization. These include: DuPage Railroad Safety Council, Federal Railroad Administration, Illinois Commerce Commission, Association of American Railroads and American Public Transportation Association.
To read more about Metra's safety efforts, see the Safety pages on this website.