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  by MetraBNSF
Getting Around

Jon Hilkevitch
Risky running penalized
Train crews hope refusing boarding cures daredevils

Published December 13, 2004

http://www.chicagotribune.com/classifie ... i-news-hed

The offender was easily identifiable by the white pants he wore, the umbrella he carried and most of all, the horrible judgment he displayed.

In addition, there was the telltale frown on his face when the Metra train departed without him.

It happened about 8 a.m. Tuesday in Elmhurst as train No. 32 on Metra's Union Pacific West Line approached the station. The engineer, alarmed by the individual perilously close to his 12 million-pound train, sounded quick bursts of the whistle and abruptly applied the brakes all the way when the man broke across the tracks.

The trespasser's goal was to reach the platform and board the Chicago-bound train. He never made it. But he lived to ponder his foolhardiness and hopefully never to repeat it.

"We located the gentleman when the train pulled into the station and confronted him on the platform," said conductor Wayne Evans, a 28-year veteran of the Union Pacific Railroad.

"He denied it, naturally, but other passengers pointed him out. We told him he would not be allowed to get on the train," said Evans of St. Charles. "We left without him."

Faced with the daily danger of pedestrians running across railroad tracks or under lowered crossing gates to catch their trains, Metra crews are increasingly fighting back by refusing to allow the violators to board the train.

The lawbreakers are given the option of waiting for the next train or, if the offenders insist on getting onto the train that almost hit them, going to the police station.

It seems that in many cases, the threat of making a commuter late to work is more effective than the prospect of a fine ranging from $250 to $500 for being on the tracks or jumping crossing gates when a train is coming, railroad officials said.

"We support our crews' judgment to deny boarding to customers who put themselves in harm's way," said Metra spokesman Tom Miller. "We hope it would teach them a lesson."

The cooperation of other riders, particularly the peer pressure they exert, is a big help, officials said.

"A lot of our regular riders have no hesitation of saying to the conductor, `He's right back there.' The best part is that it helps us, not in just a policing effort, but in a safety effort," said Charlie Turner, manager of operating practices on the Union Pacific West Line.

"I have no problem fingering some idiot who can't get to the station on time and plays Russian roulette with the train," said Debbie Harris, 41, a commuter from Glen Ellyn. "I don't need the stress of seeing somebody splattered."

Denying boarding to commuters who foolishly dart in front of trains, or issuing fines, "tells these people that we care more about your life than your action just indicated," said Chip Pew, a railroad safety specialist with the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Despite potentially tragic consequences, the message will invariably fail to get through to some people. Pew recalls an incident in Deerfield, on Metra's Milwaukee District North Line, involving a commuter who became irate with a conductor because the man got grease from the train on his business suit.

"He wanted to file a damage claim against Metra and the conductor asked him, `How did you get the grease on your suit?' The guy says, `I was climbing under the train' (to get to the platform in order to board the train.) "The conductor denied him boarding," Pew said.

Evans had a similar experience recently in Wheaton when a man and a woman in a hurry crawled under a Metra train momentarily stopped at the station.

"They were carrying suitcases, smiling and happy that they were going to make the train until I told them they couldn't get on," Evans said. "They said, `We didn't know you couldn't crawl underneath the train. We're from Texas.'"

Eight pedestrian fatalities occurred at railroad crossings across Illinois in 2003 and five have taken place through September, said John Blair, senior railroad safety specialist at the commerce commission. The toll does not include suicides.

Since 1994, 23 percent of accidental rail-crossing deaths in the state involved pedestrians, Blair said.

Metra's no-boarding policy for trespassers comes in a post-9/11 environment in which law-enforcement officers must pay increased attention to security as well as to safety issues. As a result of the added police duties, the number of tickets being written by Metra police for pedestrian and motor-vehicle trespassing over railroad tracks is declining, said Miller, the Metra spokesman.

"Our ticketing is lower than it was in the late 1990s," Miller said. Still, he said Metra police wrote 240 citations for railroad-crossing violations from August 2003 to July 2004.

Sgt. Ray Fisher of the Villa Park Police Department said his officers can write five to 10 tickets in three hours. That's down from 20 to 30 tickets during a typical rush period several years ago. He attributed part of the decline to more commuters obeying the law.

"I always ask a violator if his or her life is worth $500," Fisher said. "When we write a ticket, they will miss their train anyway."

The Illinois secretary of state's office did not have data available on citations written by police departments in the Chicago area recently under an 8-year-old state law that increased penalties. The law authorized $250 fines for first-time violators and $500 fines for subsequent offenses. More than 1,000 tickets were issued annually after the law took effect in 1996.

Sgt. Kevin O'Connell, traffic supervisor for Des Plaines police, said his department aggressively tickets railroad trespassers.

"We started out with an educational blitz to warn violators to knock it off. Now we're down to one or two [tickets] a day and we support Metra's denied-boarding efforts," O'Connell said.

The good news is that some trespassers who experience close calls take them seriously.

A commuter who was running late ran in front of Steve Bauer's train recently. It happened so fast that Bauer, an engineer on the Union Pacific West Line between Chicago and Geneva, couldn't make a positive identification of the violator. But the man, who made eye contact with Bauer during the incident, searched out the engineer at the station and apologized.

"He said, `I've got no idea what it looked like from your perspective up there, but I'm sorry,'" recalled Bauer, an engineer since 1998 who last week encountered his first fatality, which is being investigated as a suicide.

"I was kind of surprised he sought me out," said Bauer of New Lenox. "I just told him that he might've been in a hurry, but I was sure his family wanted to see him at night."

  by orangeline
I read the piece in the Trib and applaud train crews not letting the offenders get away with their reckless behavior. I still can't believe the chutzpah of one business type insisting Metra pay to clean his suit of grease that he accumulated by crawling UNDER the stopped train in order to board it! I haven't yet seen anyone do that at my station (LaGrange Rd on the BNSF), but I suppose it's only a matter of time! Why can't these people leave home 5 minutes earlier in order to get to the station before their train arrives? Must be they're all too important to do something as sensible as that!

  by meh
About a month ago I was walking down a Union Station platform from the Madison St. entrance 4 minutes before a Milwaukee North train departed. About a dozen teenage kids came running up the service platform (on the opposite side of the train from the open doors), jumped down onto the tracks immediately in front of the locomotive, climbed up onto the proper platform, and ran down the train to the first open car. Some of them stumbled while crossing the tracks. A conductor was standing on the platform beside the open door where the kids entered the train.

When I reached that conductor, I asked him if he'd be collecting $250 from each of those kids. He replied that if a Metra police officer had been present, he wouldn't have let the kids board, but since he knew the engineer wasn't yet in the locomotive (the engineer reached the conductor just before I did, walking in the opposite direction), the conductor knew the train would not yet be moving. I pointed out to him that the kids certainly had no idea the engineer wasn't in the locomotive, and they had to have crossed at least one other active track to end up on the service platform in the first place. And considering that they were running so frantically (and hadn't bothered to find the right platform while in the station), they probably also had no idea that they were crossing the tracks 4 minutes--rather than 4 seconds--before departure.

I at least hoped that the conductor or engineer would make a stern announcement over the PA once the train was underway, but nothing was said. What really troubles me that these kids now probably feel a greater sense of boldness to take risks like this again, and there's no guarantee they'll be so lucky next time. Being forced to wait two hours for the next train might make them think briefly about train safety, and a $250 fine might make them think even harder.

[P.S. I deliberately am not mentioning the day or date or train number because my central complaint is not that the train crew did not turn in these kids. I think it's great when crews can take action like described in the Tribune article, but I realize that there are times they may not be able to do so in addition to their other duties.]

  by Joe
A couple of months ago, I was watching trains at Downers Grove-Main Street (BNSF). There's this guy walking around, and before his train comes, he walked across the tracks while the gates were down for two freights (or other Metras, I don't quite remember.). So when his train comes, he's on the wrong platform; and the locomotive stopped on the crossing; so he runs across the crossing and climbs onto the rear platform of the F40PHM, and through the gap. Let's just say that that train was in the station for quite some time and that guy was still on the platform when the train left. So, he picks up his beer bottle he left on the crossing while climbing onto the F40, and goes back to the station. A bit later, he nearly misses the next train. Oi vei... :(