Report: Train crossing accidents occurring at high rates in Chicago

Local reports show railroad crossing accidents and deaths are occurring at a high rate in Illinois, and inadequate signage and warnings may be contributing.

Most people who reside or work in Chicago regularly cross paths with trains while traveling around the city. According to ABC News, Illinois has more train crossings and more miles of railroad track than all but one state. Sadly, an investigation from the same source indicates that this puts local residents and visitors at a high risk for railroad crossing accidents.

Alarming accident rates

The investigation found that over 100 collisions occur at railroad crossings in Illinois during an average year. Often, these accidents have devastating consequences for the involved pedestrians or motorists. CBS News reports that in 2012 alone, 107 pedestrians were injured or killed in railroad crossing accidents.

Illinois also experiences a relatively high rate of these accidents compared to other states. For instance, during 2012, over 900 pedestrian injuries or fatalities occurred at train crossings across the U.S. More than one in ten of these reported accidents happened here in Illinois.

Dangerous crossings

Although the state's high number of railroad crossings may contribute to this steep accident rate, other factors may also be at play. ABC News notes that train-vehicle collisions and similar accidents frequently occur at crossings that aren't adequately marked. Most pedestrians and drivers count on signals such as descending gates and flashing lights to warn of an approaching train, but many crossings lack these obvious warning devices.

No signs are required at railroad crossings located on private land, according to ABC News, and many crossings on public land are passive. Passive crossings feature signs but lack gates or signal lights. The investigation found that over the last two years, 71 collisions between trains and vehicles or pedestrians have occurred at these more easily overlooked passive crossings.

Safety improvements

Every year, authorities in Illinois make improvements to selected railroad crossings to reduce the risk of these accidents. According to the Illinois Commerce Commission, these improvements include the following measures:

  • Installing new automatic warning devices at crossings that lack them
  • Constructing new crossings with grade separations for vehicles or pedestrians
  • Installing monitoring devices that notify authorities when warning devices fail

Unfortunately, the ICC can only make a limited number of annual improvements. Illinois has over 10,000 highway railroad crossings, and over 70 percent of these are not grade-separated. Consequently, many potentially unsafe crossings may go without needed improvements each year.

Liability in accidents

When accidents occur at these unsafe crossings, victims may have legal recourse. A number of these accidents happen because railroad crossings were designed poorly, crossing signals malfunctioned or warning signs were hidden or missing. In these situations, railroad companies or other responsible parties may be considered liable for any resulting collisions and injuries.

Anyone who has been injured or lost a loved one in a railroad crossing accident should consider speaking to an attorney about the available legal options. An attorney may be able to assess a person's case or provide assistance during the claims process.