When freight trains run right past and through commuter rail stations, it is vital that adequate signs and other safeguards be in place to protect pedestrians. Without such protections, people are at unreasonable risk of mass transit accidents.
Are such protections in place in the western suburbs of Chicago, where freight trains are once again passing through Metra commuter rail stations? The freight trains were kept from the Metra stations while Union Pacific and Metra negotiated an agreement to revised long-established pedestrian safety policies. The policies were intended to protect pedestrians in the station when another train approaches.
New Automated Warning System
Under the agreement, a new warning device, called Another Train Warning System (ATWS), will issue a flashing red “Danger” sign when a second train approaches the station. This will set off a white flashing “Another train is coming” sign followed by an audio “Danger, another train is coming.”
The upgrade also includes the installation of more pedestrian gates, new pathways, inter-track fencing, platform signs, and the discarding of mid-platform pedestrian crossings. These actions are meant to discourage pedestrians from unsafe crossings. The new infrastructure is expected to cost $132 million.
Metra and Union Pacific officials assert that the new system will improve traffic flow without compromising pedestrian safety. Traffic flow is certainly an important consideration, with freight trains, commuter rail passengers, and motorists all affected by crossing-gate performance. But will pedestrians really have adequate safety protections under the new system?
Metra officials hope that the warning system will alert people to the sight and sound of approaching trains and avoid Metra accidents. But the AWTS technology is untested, and so many trains and people in such close proximity creates a delicate situation that must be managed with care.
Metra also needs to finish installing the new system. It is in place at several stations in the western suburbs, but it has not yet fully been installed in others.