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Metra considering installing cameras at crossings

Updated: April 23, 2014 6:10AM



Motorists who try to beat flashing lights at Metra railroad grade crossings could be captured on cameras, ticketed and fined under a proposal outlined Friday by a Metra consultant.

Several Metra board members jumped on the idea as a way to reduce fatalities and injuries, as well as all the train delays they engender. Last month, three grade-crossing accidents caused 117 train delays, officials said.

“We need to do something to cut down on injuries to people and accidents,’’ said Metra Chairman Martin Oberman. The proposal has the “double benefit” of potentially reducing delays and is worth exploring, he said.

Consultant Hillard Heintze initially suggested the idea — still to be researched — as a way to free up Metra manpower. Currently, Metra officers conduct “crossing blitzes” at troublesome crossings. Cameras could be used instead, and would probably be more effective in reducing accidents, said Hillard Heintze executive Ken Bouche.

Cameras also might be used on problematic platforms, Bouche said. New York authorities are pursuing the camera idea for their commuter rail lines, he noted.

Forty-six accidents occurred at Metra grade crossings last year, up from 44 the previous year, Metra officials said. Last year, eight people died in those accidents, down from 11 in 2012, although officials believe some of those incidents were suicides.

Earlier this month, a Taft High School student was killed while walking across Metra tracks in Norwood Park, even though flashing lights and gates were active. The student was wearing headphones and may not have heard warning bells, officials said at the time.

Metra camera enforcement would probably focus more on identifying offending motorists; license plates make vehicles easier to trace than pedestrians, Metra officials said. Metra police could issue the tickets.

Just the threat of a ticket could stop some violators, Metra CEO Don Orseno said.

“If I knew I was going to get a ticket and it would cost me money, I would really think about policing myself,’’ Orseno said.

The camera idea is one of several Hillard Heintze will pose to Metra’s new police chief, who is expected to be selected by Orseno next week from 63 candidates located by Hillard Heintze.

Metra first hired Hillard Heintze for $100,000 in October 2012 to assess its police department, then added a $100,000 contract in January to help the rail agency find a new police chief, provide an interim police chief, and offer other guidance. Board members Friday approved adding another $100,000 to the deal, so Hillard Heintz could help the new police chief transition into his role.

However, at least one board member questioned the extra $100,000. Said John Plante: “It kind of raises a red flag when you see extensions like this.’’

Also Friday, Metra agreed to a nearly $280,000 plan to give 450 Metra police, ticket agents and coach cleaners “ProActive Terrorist Recognition and Interdiction” training to help them identify suspicious people and behavior. Staff last received such training in 2007.

The board also approved an $8.1 million contract to construct a pedestrian underpass, ramps for the disabled and other improvements at the Lombard Station on the UP West line. Metra is kicking in $3.7 million to the project; UP $3.3 million; the Illinois Commerce Commission $750,000 and Lombard $300,000. Work should begin this spring and take about 10 months, with the station staying open during construction.

New Metra numbers Friday also indicated train delays have been steadily decreasing since January’s brutal cold and snow. Officials said the percent of trains on-time were 85.6 percent in January, 87.1 percent in February and 94.45 percent so far in March. Metra’s goal is a 95 percent on-time rate.

Email: rrossi@suntimes.com

Twitter: @rosalindrossi



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