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Despite Recent Rash Of Fatal Collisions, Metra Says No Patterns Exist

Three pedestrians have died after being struck by BNSF Metra trains this month in Hinsdale, Westmont and Downers Grove. Most recently, a male pedestrian was hit by a train near downtown Downers Grove on Tuesday morning.

Roughly 25 to 30 fatal collisions involving Metra trains occur across the Chicagoland system each year, Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis said, but pinning down trends is difficult.

“It’s not possible to discern a pattern,” Gillis said, citing unofficial statistics kept by Metra’s media relations department. “Sometimes they happen once every couple weeks, sometimes we get a few happening in quick succession and then don’t have one for a long time.”

Three fatal train-on-pedestrian collisions have occurred along BNSF tracks in the western suburbs within a 12-day span this month.

The first was on March 7, when a 31-year-old Hickory Hills man was struck by a train near the Cass Avenue BNSF crossing in Westmont. On the afternoon of Monday, March 18, a 42-year-old Clarendon Hills man was struck and killed in an apparent suicide near the West Hinsdale train station. Another male pedestrian was killed the following morning, Tuesday, March 19, when he was hit by a train at the Forest Avenue crossing near downtown Downers Grove.

The age and identity of the pedestrian killed in Downers Grove has not been released by the DuPage County Coroner's Office.

All three incidents involved eastbound Metra commuter trains.

A majority of the 25 to 30 incidents that Gillis said occur annually involve pedestrians, but others involve vehicles.

“Whenever we’re aware of one that happens on our system, we try to get the police report on our file just so we can keep tabs on how many that happen each year,” Gillis said.

In 2012, Gillis’ department unofficially documented 30 fatal incidents, two of which took place along the BNSF tracks. Twenty incidents were documented in 2011, five on BNSF tracks, and 24 were documented in 2010, none of which were on the BNSF tracks.

So far in 2013, there have been four fatal collisions system-wide, with the aforementioned three occurring on BNSF tracks.

County coroners determine the causes of death in these cases, and Gillis said only a minority of them are accidents.

“The majority of these do end up being classified as suicides every year,” he said.

Gillis emphasized that his department’s data is not necessarily comprehensive, and there may be incidents that it misses. Gillis also warned that BNSF owns the tracks Metra operates in the western suburbs, so some incidents on those tracks might be completely handled by BNSF officials.

BNSF spokesperson Amy McBeth said the railroad couldn't provide Patch with any fatality statistics, but said the railway reports all accidents to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The FRA, which has numbers current up to December 2012, has records of only three fatal highway-rail incidents on BNSF tracks in DuPage and Cook counties from 2010 to 2012.

One involved a freight train hitting a pedestrian in Riverside in October 2012, and the other involved a freight train hitting a pedestrian in Downers Grove in November 2011.  

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