The Illinois House passed an amendment to the Illinois Vehicle Code that increases the penalties for drivers who try to cross railroad tracks after the signals are activated and gates are down. The bill will now move to Gov. Rauner’s desk for his signature.
The legislation doubles the fines from $250 to $500 for a first offense and from $500 to $1,000 for a second or subsequent offense.
Last year, Illinois ranked second in the nation in highway-rail fatalities, with nearly 25% of vehicle/train collisions occurring at crossings with active warning devices, including lights, gates and bells, according to Illinois Operation Lifesaver. If this legislation becomes law, Illinois will have some of the strictest penalties in the nation for these types of vehicular offenses.
The legislation was initiated by Metra this spring as part of a larger initiative to help promote rail safety awareness and eliminate preventable injuries and deaths at highway-rail grade crossings. The House passed Senate Bill 2806 today with 113-0 vote. The bill was approved by the Senate on April 21.
“Our message is simple: when the gates are down, stay off the tracks or you will pay the price through these increased fines or worse,” said Metra’s Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “In addition to the potential and tragic loss of life, collisions that occur at our railroad crossings can impact thousands of Metra customers, who can be delayed for hours at a time, and can also delay motorists.”
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, Illinois also had the third-highest number of rail crossing collisions (140, behind Texas and California), the second-highest number of rail crossing fatalities (24, behind California) and the third-highest number of rail crossing injuries (79, behind Texas and North Carolina), according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Two hundred and forty-four people died in highway-rail crashes nationwide in 2015. A pedestrian or vehicle-train collision occurs every three hours on average nationwide.
In March, Metra announced plans to conduct Operation Lifesaver Safety Blitzes at 45 train stations across its six-county service area in 2016 as part of its ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the importance of safe behavior around its trains and tracks.