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Rail Safety

The Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) works with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to ensure railroad safety. The Illinois Commercial Transportation Law (625 ILCS 5/Chapter 18C) establishes general safety requirements for track, facilities and equipment belonging to rail carriers within Illinois, and gives the ICC jurisdiction to administer and enforce those requirements. IDOT works with ICC on grade crossings as well as the high-speed rail initiative.

For more information on rail safety, please visit the ICC's Railroad Safety web page.

Grade Crossing

The railroad safety environment in Illinois is characterized by intense use of both the rail and highway systems. IDOT is committed to an effective partnership with the ICC for grade crossing safety.

Below are some of the safety strategies and efforts that are being implemented to carry out a highway-rail safety program that promotes a safe, economical and efficient railroad transportation system. These safety efforts can be summarized as the Three E’s - Education, Engineering and Enforcement:

Education: Illinois is actively involved in developing programs to educate the public about the danger at grade crossings. One example of a public education program is the ICC’s participation in Operation Lifesaver. Each state conducts its program in cooperation with federal and local government agencies, the railroads, rail labor, civic organizations and interested individuals. This public awareness program is organized to reduce the number of accidents, deaths and injuries at highway-rail intersections. It also strives to improve driver and pedestrian behavior at railroad crossings by encouraging compliance with traffic laws relating to crossing signs and signals. To learn more about this program and how to get involved, please visit the  ICC's Operation Lifesaver website.

Enforcement: Enforcement of existing traffic and trespass laws is key, especially the issuance of fines (up to $500) or community service to persons crossing railroad tracks after the warning signals have activated.

Engineering: Highway-rail grade crossing safety improvements are also critical to reducing collisions. Illinois identifies and implements physical and system improvements, including the installation and upgrading of grade crossing warning signs and automatic warning devices and, where warranted, grade separations. While education and enforcement are absolutely essential, the focus of the State of Illinois Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Action Plan is the engineering of capital improvements to further railroad crossing safety on local roads.

High-Speed Rail Initiative

In addition to greatly improving travel times and reliability, the Chicago-St. Louis High-Speed Rail (HSR) program will create a passenger rail corridor featuring state-of-the-art technology designed to make the route as safe as possible for 21st century train travel. This will be accomplished in several ways, starting with the federally-required installation of positive train control PTC. This system adds an additional element of back-up protection to keep trains a safe distance apart from one another, and also to provide sufficient warning time at grade crossings to make sure that gates and flashers are activated far enough in advance to ensure that vehicles cannot enter the crossing if there is any risk of a collision with an oncoming train. The additional back-up measures provided by PTC include an automatic slow/stop feature that constantly monitors wayside signals and checks for train engineer response; should an engineer fail to respond to an upcoming signal for any reason, the train will take over the controls itself and slow or stop the train as required.

At grade crossings themselves, the HSR program is adding “four-quadrant” gates to all public, and many private, grade crossings.  Many railroad crossings are protected with only two crossing gates per crossing, in the lane headed toward the crossing. With only two quadrants protected, it is thus possible for a motorist to drive around the closed gate in the lane of oncoming traffic and try to “beat” the train.  Four-quadrant gates add two more gates to the crossing—in the oncoming traffic lanes.  The crossing can then only be breached by a motorist choosing to drive through a closed gate. Back in the mid-2000s, a segment of more than 50 miles was equipped with four-quadrant gates—and since they were added, there have been no vehicle incursions in those crossings. Also at these crossings, pedestrian gates will be added where there are pedestrian crossings—and these pedestrian areas will include “escape” gates that allows someone who is in the crossing to safely exit the area if he/she happens to be in the crossing when the lights and flashers activate. Finally, roadway approaches at many grade crossings will be improved so that motorist sight lines at the crossing will be improved.