Photo courtesy of Mark Llanuza/Metra.

Photo courtesy of Mark Llanuza/Metra.

Metra police issued more than 200 citations to motorists and pedestrians who failed to obey railroad gates and signals or trespassed on railroad property during Illinois Rail Safety Week.

“Too many people are so focused on saving time that they become complacent and fail to see the dangers of disobeying railroad signals or using the tracks as a walking path,” said Metra Police Chief Joe Perez. “Our intention with these enforcement activities is to remind people that their behavior is both dangerous and illegal. Shaving a few minutes off your commute simply isn’t worth the risk; but unfortunately, sometimes it takes hitting people in the pocketbook to get the message across.”

During Illinois Rail Safety Week (Sept. 11-17), Metra Police issued 227 citations and 78 warnings to pedestrians and motorists at or near train stations. Enforcement activities were focused on areas where train crews and others have witnessed and reported frequent violations. Citations for disobeying signals and gates were fairly evenly split between those on foot and those in cars, with 63 pedestrians and 78 motorists cited. Another 45 motorists who stopped their vehicles within a rail grade crossing were also cited and 33 pedestrians were cited for trespassing on railroad property.

The penalty for drivers who try to cross railroad tracks after the signals are activated and gates are down is currently $250 for a first offense, doubling to $500 for subsequent offenses. On Jan. 1, 2017, a revision to the Illinois Vehicle Code signed into law this past spring means that fines will double to $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

According to Illinois Operation Lifesaver, more than 50% of all collisions occur at crossings with active warning devices (flashing lights, gates, and ringing bells). The purpose of Illinois Rail Safety Week is to promote rail safety awareness across the state through enforcement and education activities at train stations and crossings. In addition to Metra’s efforts, the BNSF Railway also conducted a training exercise on its line to Aurora. The exercise exposed law enforcement personnel in communities along the line to the grade crossing violation issues that train crews encounter every day.

Illinois has the second-largest rail system of any state with more than 7,300 miles of railroad track and 10,363 public highway-rail crossings. In 2015, there were 140 crossing collisions involving motor vehicles in Illinois, resulting in 79 injuries and 24 fatalities. Illinois also experienced 41 railroad property trespassing incidents that resulted in 18 injuries and 23 fatalities. These numbers left Illinois ranking third in the nation in vehicle collision fatalities and fifth in the nation in trespasser fatalities.