Railroad, City Officials Seek to Improve Train Crossing Safety

Look at installing fencing, cracking down on trespassing.

Installing fencing along the railroad tracks from Woodland Road north past , along with stricter pedestrian enforcement around railroad crossings, are some of the suggestions coming from a group composed of and representatives from Union Pacific and Metra railroad companies.

The group, which had not met for a year, reconvened April 26 to consider creating some proposals in conjunction with other initiatives launched in the . Two of the three incidents were ruled suicides by the Lake County Coroner’s Office.

On May 3, half of the group also observed pedestrian behavior around the East Lake Forest Train Depot, while the other half walked along the track area and bike path starting at Woodland Road and heading north just past the high school.

Their possible action items came as part of a report from Assistant City Manager Carina Walters during the committee of the whole meeting May 7. Walters said the group would meet again next week, and their recommendations would be passed on to the Transportation Safety Enhancement Committee, which could bring them to the Lake Forest City Council for consideration.

“Some may be short-term, some long-term, some may not happen,” Walters said.

In 2010, Lake Forest Mayor James Cowhey appointed a composed of public safety officials, school officials, engineers, city staff and volunteers from the local business community.

Fencing Inconsistencies

Walters said the group, which walked north of Woodland Road, noticed fencing inconsistencies. Some areas were fenced, some were not, and particularly the latter once they reached the high school.

The group will identify the total amount of fencing that would be needed, identify costs and see if a fence could be installed from Woodland Road all the way past the high school to “really deter residents, bike path users and students from crossing the railroad tracks,” Walters said.

Walters presented photos of a path that was created by human traffic off the bike path just at the north end of the high school. Despite the presence of “No Trespassing” signs, photos show people have been crossing the tracks.

“There is signage here that there should not be any trespassing, which individuals are clearly ignoring,” she said. “It’s leading them to either businesses or condos” that border Western Avenue.

Walters said those condominiums and businesses might be allowing high school students to park their vehicles, which allows them to walk across the tracks.

“The city and Union Pacific are drafting a letter to appropriately educate and remind them that this is behavior that should be deterred,” Walters said.

East Train Depot Issues

At the East Train Depot, the other group observed “what the commuters were doing, were they crossing when the lights were still flashing, were they going around the gates,” Walters said.

Based on those observations, Walters said Metra needs to synchronize the express train announcements.

“When the express train is buzzing through the depot, you hear the announcement that says this is an express train and does not stop,” she said. “So there is clearly a timing issue and Metra is looking to modify that.”

In addition, the group suggested the northbound train should block Westminster Street even more to deter people from going around the tracks, she said.

The removal or closing of the pedestrian at-grade crossing at the East Train Depot also was mentioned.

Union Pacific will perform station audits for signage reminding individuals of the state law of not crossing the tracks while bells are ringing and lights are flashing. It also will identify and develop plans to block known trespasser points, according to Walters.

First Ward Alderman Kent Elliott Novit said he has noticed that when the northbound train arrives in the East Train Depot, it does not block Deerpath. Consequently, “following the stream of passengers getting off the train and accessing the parking lots, about half the people are crossing over going eastbound while the bells are ringing and the lights are flashing,” he said.

Walters said that would be an opportunity for Lake Forest police to remind train customers about crossing safely, or another possibility, “take it a step further and issue citations. I’m not saying it’s the best option,” Walters said.

Novit asked about the possibility of exploring grants or other funded programs that could be used to pay for underground pedestrian passages in south Lake Forest and by the high school. He said his observations are there are few points to cross the tracks, and it’s “human nature is to take the shortest route between two points.”

Focus on Adults

Though the latest incidents have involved high school students, Norm Carlson, a member of the Transportation Safety Enhancement Committee, reported that statistics show adults are the real problem when it comes to illegal railroad crossings.

Carlson took his data from a study Amtrak and the Northwestern University Transportation Center conducted from 2004 to 2010.

He reported 260 pedestrian fatalities from the study, noting nine pedestrian fatalities to every auto fatality.

“That is the exact reverse of the national experience,” said Carlson, a Lake Forest-based transportation consultant.

Carlson also noted from the study:

  • Lake County has the second highest of incidents of the counties that comprise the Metra area.
  • The Milwaukee North Line, which runs through western Lake Forest, has the highest number of incidents of any of the 11 lines in the Metra system.
  • Of villages and cities or population of 10,000 and more, Lake Forest is No. 4 in number of incidents — No. 1 is Barrington, No. 2 is LaGrange and No. 3 is Villa Park.

The city plans to participate in Operation Life Saver Train on June 5, and encourages residents to join. A Union Pacific train of 1950 streamliners will stop in Lake Forest, and city officials along with residents are invited to enjoy the 90-minute ride up and back to Kenosha, Wis.

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barbaragail dancewicz May 15, 2012 at 03:40 PM
As a former safety and health preofessional, I am all for greater protection, and in some cases passive protection that the user cannot choose. However, let's not lose sight of the fact that these individuals chose to end their lives this way, sad as that is, and if you protect one section, persons who have that intention may go to another; we cannot fence the entire system. That said, when the costs and priorities are weighed, then if it seems necessary to add protection in ceratin areas due to safety abuses, then do it.
Katharine Christie May 15, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Let's not loose sight of the fact that--- engaging in action that may end one's life is not really a "choice" as we typically describe it. One of the things I've learned since we've lost 3 beloved members of our community - is that young people are impulsive risk-takers whose brains have not fully developed to truly understand concepts like the future and consequences of actions. If we add to the mix other mental stresses and illnesses such as depression and anxiety - we can end up with a young person who is not making rational choices. So describing these tragedies as is they were evidence of well thought out choices is inaccurate and unintentionally callous. Experts on suicide prevention - especially as it relates to young people - say that anything that slows down access to lethal methods saves lives. In fact- it should not be assumed that someone will just go down the line, to another town, etc to access the same lethal method. Because suicidal feelings come and go preventing access to a means of death can give the young person another day, another week - and this can save some lives. We have trains running through this town at ground level without barriers near schools,bike-paths, and in people's back yards. We can't makes teens less impulsive or young children less careless but we should do all we can to protect them and everyone else in our community. I'm so glad to hear train safety issues being addressed and solutions- short and long term- being offered.
Chris Jensen May 21, 2013 at 12:34 PM
Why doesn't LF re-open the pedestrian path underneath the tracks?


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