Aardy R. DeVarque (aardy) wrote,
Aardy R. DeVarque

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Not a good week for trains in Chicagoland...

Three train accidents in three days... so far.

#1. Tuesday, Nov. 22. Four to six freight cars derail in Forest Park; two of the derailed cars contained propane gas, which thankfully didn't leak.

#2. Wednesday, Nov. 23. Metra commuter express train going ~60 mph plows into 5 cars caught on the track in Elmwood Park, throwing them into 10-11 more cars; 16 people injured, no fatalities. (And two days later, only two people are still hospitalized.) The footage from this accident should be mandatory viewing for everyone who ever might have to drive across an at-grade train crossing, as proof positive that you should NEVER, EVER start pulling onto the tracks unless you can already see a full car-length of space on the other side.

#3. Thursday, Nov. 24. Two freight trains collide in Momence, causing five engines & 45 freight cars to derail, spilling grain alcohol all over the tracks.

Dominican is about exactly between each of the first two wreck sites, about two miles from either. I was at Dominican giving a lecture Tuesday evening when the first wreck happened; thankfully it was south of the school and I was heading north afterwards. The third site is in the far southern suburbs, at 55 miles out, far enough south that it's only sort of still "Chicagoland," but close enough for newsies to point at.

The second wreck happened either about a half-mile west or 4/5 mile feet east of where I crossed the tracks on my way to Dominican every week for the last four years (depending on which route I took); the traffic in that area is heavy at the best of times, and every road for several miles in either direction crosses the tracks at grade, and there are train-car or train-pedestrian accidents between there and the place I crossed west of there a few times every year, but never one this bad. Given the amount of traffic, the number of major roads that intersect the tracks, the lack of alternate routes that go over or under the tracks, the number of 200-car freights that also use those tracks during rush-hour (resulting in 20-45 minute waits being commonplace), and drivers' standard impatience with the standard stop-and-go traffic at the best of times through the area, something like this was virtually guaranteed to happen at some point.

As far as anyone can tell, the only reason there weren't any fatalities or more injuries was that the people caught on the tracks had almost a minute of warning to abandon their cars and run for safety (because of geography, once caught on the tracks, there was nowhere they could have driven to that would have been out of a train's path), and because there's a fire station directly across the street, so the first EMS responders were on the scene in about 20 seconds.

The Chicago area is notorious for having an obscene number of grade crossings, for having a lot of trains running at all times of the day or night--the area as a whole is still one of the major rail hubs for the entire country--the lines leading into the major freight yards in the area all go through heavily-trafficked areas, and only the commuter lines that service the city itself and the closest suburbs are either elevated or subways. Everything else is at grade. It's a pain and a half, but since most areas also have residential or commercial buildings built right up to the road and the rails, building under- or overpasses--neither of which is cheap to begin with--requires either demolishing those buildings (expensive and unpopular) or finding a way to still provide access (expensive and there just isn't the physical space anyway), and building several hundred miles of subways or elevated commuter lines in the suburbs is out of anybody's price range, so the status quo stays and accidents like this continue to happen.

Everyone I know insists they're safe drivers, but I can't count the number of times I've seen cars caught on the tracks by a nearby red light & heavy traffic, or have seen cars try to speed on through under the gates as they come down, and so forth. So be safe, y'all, y'hear?

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
Tags: accidents, trains

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