South Siders Deserve Pedestrian Gates for Metra Grade Crossings Too

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How many deaths and serious injuries will it take before Metra decides that protecting pedestrians at South Side grade crossings is as important as protecting the motor vehicle occupants sitting next to them?

This week, 11-year old Alex Zepeda lost his leg when he was struck by a Metra train approaching the Blue Island-Vermont station at the Winchester Street crossing, which has automotive gates but lacks gates across the sidewalk. Several of his schoolmates, who were aboard the school bus he was running to, were traumatized by the sight. Alex saw the bus cross the tracks, then dashed under the gates blocking the road. A lower, sidewalk-level gate might have stopped him in time.

In 2012, a young mother was struck and killed by a Rock Island train at 95th Street and Vincennes Avenue, and a woman was fatally struck by a Rock Island train at 95th and Wood streets in 2010, a busy crossing that also lacks pedestrian gates. In fact, there is a collision nearly every week between trains and pedestrians or vehicles in this section of the Metra service area.

The number of grade crossings where pedestrians are at risk on the far South Side is staggering:

  • Metra Electric District, Blue Island branch: 24 grade crossings over 3.5 miles of track, from 121st and Michigan to Blue Island-Vermont station. No pedestrian gates, even at Union Street, where the Major Taylor Trail crosses the line.
  • Rock Island District, Beverly branch: 29 grade crossings over 6 miles of track, from 89th and Aberdeen streets to Blue Island-Vermont station. Of these, only one crossing (at 89th and Aberdeen) has pedestrian gates.
  • Rock Island District, main line: 16 grade crossings over 4.8 miles of track, from 95th Street and Vincennes Avenue to Blue Island-Vermont station. The crossing at 102nd Place lacks sidewalks, so the crossing gates for vehicle traffic double as pedestrian gates. This line carries heavy Metra and freight traffic, including high speed express trains.
  • Total: 69 grade crossings over 14.3 miles of Metra tracks, within the 16 square mile area bounded by 89th and 130th streets, and Michigan and Western avenues — and only one crossing has pedestrian gates.

Many other busy grade crossings across the Metra system have pedestrian gates, notably those at Riverside, Edison Park, Arlington Heights, and Wilmette stations. Sure, these locations have significant pedestrian traffic at rush hour, but that’s also true for 95th-Beverly Hills, Blue Island-Vermont, and other stations within the area discussed above. During the time I’ve lived in Beverly, I’ve witnessed near-misses at 95th every week.

There is no excuse for Metra to fail to protect pedestrians at stations like Blue Island-Vermont, 95th-Beverly Hills, and others that serve hundreds of passengers each weekday. Pedestrian gates are a recommended practice for any crossing with “moderate” pedestrian volumes. Gates don’t even need to be expensive automated designs. Simple swing-arm gates with warning signs (see figure 77) have proven to be an effective deterrent in cities where light rail trains frequently cross city streets.

Installing gates would not eliminate pedestrian crashes, but they would significantly improve the odds that pedestrians would stop and not tempt fate by walking through the grade crossing — particularly for children who might not yet understand that they, too, must stop when the cars do.

Updated December 21 to clarify the alternate gate design.

  • Fred

    The lengths society has to go to to protect people from themselves is depressing.

    Do you honestly believe that the flashing lights, dinging bell, and street crossing gates are inadequate, and only if there were another 5ft gate over the sidewalk that he wouldn’t have been harmed? You can’t honestly believe he didn’t know the train was coming.

    The problem isn’t safety equipment; its people dancing with trains.

    The CTA has platforms that are several feet above the tracks, yet they STILL just launched an ad campaign telling people not to jump down onto the tracks! I mean, come on folks! A little personal responsibility goes a long way. This isn’t exactly gross negligence.

  • Those pull gates are used in L.A. by Metro for light rail lines at some locations.

  • Fred

    Also: (ripped from a previous thread)
    http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/after-accident-metra-and-pedestrian-fatalities-110875

    From the Ian Savage study Table 2:
    Apparent suicides: 161
    Trespassers at places other than grade crossings: 107
    At stations and grade crossings: 70
    Total: 338

    So ped crossing gates would potentially only have prevented 70/338 (~21%) of deaths.

  • Horseswaggled

    Railroad definition of suicide
    POOR—Suicide
    NO FAMILY—Suicide
    NO WITNESSES—Suicide
    WITNESSES CAN BE LOST—Suicide
    If nothing else they download a suicide web page and stick in victims pocket.

  • So I’m usually supportive of pedestrian measures, but it really bugs me when people, in cars or as pedestrian’s get hit by trains. Its one of the most predictable vehicles in the world. Also, the clanging bells and flashing lights should give most pedestrian’s a hint, and its quite a bit easier for pedestrians to go around gates than for cars. BUUUUT, I’m nothing if not a rational scientist. I’d be happy to reconsider my position in the face of data showing both, that this is a problem which causes a significant (statistically) number of injuries and deaths, and that gates do indeed provide a measure of safety against these problems. I’d also point out that this is probably more of an issue at double tracked crossings, where pedestrians may jump as soon as a train goes past on the close tracks.

  • Horseswaggled

    If Jeffrey Dohmer got to investigate his own killings like the killer railroads do he would have found squirrels in his frig.
    How long these railroad phoney investigators last if they put out the truth?

    Evidence let go

    1. The train has video of this — a public paid for thing —Where is the video???

    2. The train had a event recorder of brakes,lights, horns, etc…public paid for with humongous overcharges—Where are the event recorder readings???

    3. The crossing signal housing has a event recorder with gate operation —.public paid for with humongous overcharges—Where is the crossing house readings?

    4. The crossing maintainer has a hand held that would show if the automated signals were calling him/her to come fix them. Where is the hand held???

    5. The drug/alcohol tests on the train crew are?

    6. The railroad control center recording is?

  • alexfrancisburchard

    Trains can’t exactly stop on a dime.

  • BlueFairlane

    Where is the video???

    Look on youtube. There’s tons of them.

  • Fred

    5. The drug/alcohol tests on the train crew are?

    Really?!?

  • Horseswaggled

    The drug/alcohol tests on the train crew are? re·dun·dant question. 1. It would cost the railroad money 2. It would cost the railroad big money if the tests were positive. 3. Railroads love money more than the 1,000 people they will get away with killing this year. 4. Big bucks in high places let them get away with it.

  • Horseswaggled

    Especially the videos of the train undercarriages showing 100s of square feet were better braking systems could be put.

  • Fred

    Sorry, I should have looked through your comment history and noticed your anti-railroad vendetta before replying to you. My bad.

  • BlueFairlane

    If I thought you were worth breaking out the math, I would. Suffice it to say, the momentum of a train weighing thousands of tons isn’t something you’re going to get around with better brakes. People just need to learn that the big engines with all the loud bells and whistles and bright flashing lights that move along an incredibly predictable path just aren’t going to stop.

  • Horseswaggled

    Hmmm–so aircraft carriers are fake? Maybe parachutes, retro rockets, outriggers, grappling hooks, more train wheels, sanders, rubber wheels?

    Here’s the math. Stupidos running trains with no brakes and steering will kill 547.2 people in 100 million vehicle miles traveled to normal drivers 7.41. SAME people so it must me the idiots that ignore defensive driving rules on trains.

    SELECTION: Railroad – ALL

    All Regions

    State – ILLINOIS County – All

    January To December, 2013

    Total fatalities: 36

    Total train miles: 6,614,054

    100,000,000/6,614,054= 15.2

    15.2 X 36 = 547.2

    1.12 x 6.614054= 7.41

  • BlueFairlane

    At the risk of drawing the “keep it civil” warning, I’ll point out that you are so tremendously out of your depth here, it’s really funny. You can only equate stopping an F-14 with stopping a freight train if you have no understanding of basic high school physics. You’re just a silly internet zealot, so have fun zealotting.

  • Horseswaggled

    You don’t know the math so you go out in left field.

  • BlueFairlane

    For fun: p=mv; p is momentum, m is mass, v is velocity.

    The maximum weight of a fighter jet that lands on an aircraft carrier is about 54,000 lbs, or 24,500 kg. Landing velocity is about 150 mph, or 67 meters/s. Momentum for the landing fighter jet is 1.6 million N-s.

    A train’s weight depends on how many cars it has and what the cars are hauling. For this exercise, I’ll use a standard freight locomotive hauling 20 empty box cars. This is a very small train. Total weight of this system will be 1,680,000 lbs., or 762000 kg. Say this train is moving at a relatively slow 30 mph, or 13.4 m/s. The train’s momentum will be 10.2 million N-s. It takes more than six times as much energy to stop a slow moving, empty train than it does to stop heaviest fighter jet on an aircraft carrier.

  • Folks, please stop bickering — it annoys other readers and fills up our inboxes. Comments along these lines will be deleted. Thanks.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Not sure how sidewalk gates could have helped. Your story stated he “dashed under the gates blocking the road.” The boy wasnt hit at the pedestrian crossing over the tracks. Further there is always some kind of gap in the crossing gates that can’t necessarily stop someone who doesn’t use their best judgment or is immature.
    Hope he recovers well. .

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Besides, when was the last time an aircraft carrier or one of its jets hit a pedestrian?

  • BlueFairlane

    Depends on whether you define the deck guys as “pedestrians.” I knew a guy who served on an aircraft carrier. People do get hit by planes, though they’re more likely to be sliced in half by breaking cables.

  • Horseswaggled

    The reason for no pedestrian gates is all these crossings are owned by private freight railroads and if the equipment fails and they can’t hide it as usual it costs them big bucks. As would their property taxes if they weren’t hiding under public transportation.

  • david vartanoff

    While full crossing gates are the best, frankly the stupidity/ignorance of peds/drivers who ignore them is not a mechanical issue soluble by further safety measures. Sometime ago I was watching a webcam of the Norfolk Southern mainline in Chesterton IN, when an idiot pulled out from behind a car already stopped at the lowered gates (lights flashing, locomotives whistling) and zoomed across the tracks barely missing the train. Had s/he been hit and killed my sympathy would only be for the crew who had no way of stopping a 60+ MPH long freight. I am sad for the youth who lost a leg; I am furious at the parents who failed to teach him survival behavior.

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