Illinois Train Accidents: Frequent Fatalities Confirm Dangers

Two recent train accidents in Illinois reveal that dangers are present in all parts of the state, from rural crossings to congested Chicagoland transportation arteries. Illinois ranks among the top states nationally in the number of railway accidents every year, due in part to the fact that it has the second highest number of railway crossings in the country, after Texas. While train collisions with vehicles in Illinois were at a ten-year low in 2009, they still resulted in 16 fatalities statewide.

In late July, a mail carrier was killed when his truck was struck by a Canadian National freight train and pushed one-sixth of a mile down the tracks near Keenes in southern Illinois. The accident victim is survived by a wife, two daughters and a son. The accident happened just before noon while the train was travelling southbound over flat terrain, and a structure near the intersection may have obscured the eastbound driver's view of the oncoming train. The local sheriff described the crossing as clearly marked, but as is the case with most rural crossings in Illinois, no lights, bells or crossing gates were in place to warn the driver that a train was approaching.

In early August, a motorist suffered fatal injuries when a Metra train struck his car in suburban Des Plaines during the morning commute. The car flipped over and caught fire, and firefighters were not able to extricate the driver's body until the flames were subdued. Police immediately began investigating reports that the driver was attempting to drive around crossing gates. But a wide range of factors are behind the multiple collisions that occur each year involving Chicago commuter trains.

Know How to Spot Hazards

It is far too easy for motorists to become complacent about intersecting with railroad tracks. Impatience, traffic, obstructions, distractions and malfunctioning safety signals can all lead drivers to take high-stakes risks. Train accidents all too frequently lead to catastrophic injuries and deaths because the impact on the much lighter motor vehicle is almost always cataclysmic.

A recent Chicago Tribune report indicates several locations that have experienced multiple train-vehicle accidents in the Chicago metropolitan area. The list includes crossings at Nagle Avenue, Avondale Avenue and 119th Street west of Interstate Highway 57 in Chicago, as well as Chestnut Avenue and Lehigh Avenue in Glenview. A legacy of short-sighted planning has placed trains and automobiles on the same grade throughout the sprawling metropolis, and complex intersections and traffic snarls only exacerbate the problem.

With high-speed rail becoming a national priority and train speeds forecast to double and even triple in coming decades, the need for individual awareness and smart public policy will increase. For families devastated by a tragic accident or injury victims with daunting long-term medical needs, a consultation with an experienced trial attorney can provide insight about legal options and prospects for recovery.