27 June 2008

over-zealous train crossing safety

now that, as a commuter, i'm becoming so intimately familiar w/ some of these chicago suburbs, i'm noticing some hilariously and frustratingly approaches to making train/street crossing "safe."

my office is near a Metra rail line, my girlfriend's place is on the other side of it. there's another commuter rail line i must cross between my home and the office.

Dee Road in Park Ridge

this stop is "conveniently" nestled between two streets, and when the train is at the station, both streets are blocked. okay, so someone wasn't thinking when the stop was designed, but i noticed the gates stay down for at least a minute when the train has left the station. what's more, as i observed tonight, an express train put the gates down nearly a minute before it arrived, and the gates didn't go up until the train was over a mile away. really? am i really in danger of getting hit by a train a mile away and going 50 mph in the other direction?

Devon and Caldwell

this stop is right next to the intersection. at this stop, the train doesn't block the intersection, but the gates are down while the train is at the station -- regardless if the train has already cleared the intersection, or is about to. it takes about 3 minutes for Metra to unload and load passengers before proceeding, so that's 3 minutes of traffic stopped in all directions (and, of course, train and auto traffic are heaviest at the same times of day), plus another minute of the is-the-train-far-away-enough-and-going-the-opposite-direction game before the gates rise.

once the gates do go up, Devon gets first dibs. sometimes, another train comes and it's 5 more minutes of gate-down time. then Devon goes. I once waited through 3 trains before my street (caldwell) got the green. I was in the same spot for 20 minutes.


Europe does this better, right? I've seen much better handling of this in Japan.

i know what's going on. every time a bicyclist or a car or a pedestrian or a bag of leaves wanders in front of a moving train, investigation are had, speeds are slowed, crossings are reinforced and timing is re-done.

but is this really making me any safer? seems most accidents happen when someone tries to go around a gate, not because trains barrel through while the gates are up. given the state of the so-called gas crisis, not to mention road rage and ever-present traffic backups, i'd like to think that a little more reason could be applied to all this timing.


pyker said...

Aren't there also people who always call for more train whistling every time someone gets run over?

So, in summary: US passenger rail compared to europe is slower, more expensive, less frequent, less useful, there's a lot less of it, less convenient for passengers and, somehow, also a greater inconvenience for motorists. That about sum it up?

zim said...

yes, that sums it up.