NTSB: Various Factors Led to Railroad Crossing Accident in Illinois

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of an accident that occurred at a highway-railroad grade crossing in Elmwood Park, Ill., was a combination of factors including the intersection angle, the heavy holiday traffic and the complex street and rail pattern and related signal interactions at the intersection.

"Despite the efforts of state and local authorities to address the safety concerns at this large and complicated grade crossing with a variety of signage and technology improvements, this accident occurred because these changes still failed to prevent vehicles from being trapped inside the crossing gates," said NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. "What is needed is a permanent solution to prevent future accidents between trains and automobiles at this highly congested intersection."

On Nov. 23, 2005, at 4:41 p.m. in Elmwood Park, a traffic queue formed within the 366-foot-wide signaled Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad (METRA) highway-railroad grade crossing on eastbound West Grand Avenue. At the same time, METRA train 107 was approaching the crossing on the westbound tracks at a speed of 70 mph, as indicated by event data recorder information. The crossing lights were activated and the crossing gates lowered 54 seconds before the train arrived. The traffic queue trapped some stopped vehicles within the grade crossing.

As METRA train 107 approached the crossing, the engineer recognized the hazard and put the train into emergency braking. The train was unable to stop before colliding with approximately six of the stopped vehicles, pushing them into secondary impacts with 12 other vehicles. Seven automobile occupants received minor-to-serious injuries, and 3 of the approximately 400 train passengers reported minor injuries. The impact destroyed six vehicles, and 12 vehicles had minor-to-extensive damage. The locomotive incurred minor damage and did not derail.

The report adopted by the board states that this grade crossing is the widest in the State of Illinois and has been the location of 45 accidents between 1956 and November 2005, resulting in a total of 7 fatalities and 27 injuries.

The Board report also notes that the Village of Elmwood Park, in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), had undertaken several initiatives to improve the safety of the grade crossing in recent years, but that congested traffic conditions continue to cause safety problems in this location.

As a result of its investigation, the NTSB made a recommendation to the governor of Illinois to require the ICC and IDOT to construct a grade separation in place of the West Grand Avenue grade crossing, and provide the necessary resources to effect this change.

The board's full report will be available on NTSB's Web site in several weeks.

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