Community Railroad Resources

Jul 31, 2013

Community Railroad Resources

Chicago is the hub of the nation's freight network. Railroads are a part of our communities, with services for freight and passengers crossing the region. Rail lines cross roadways at nearly 2000 points. This page is intended to provide some limited information about a number of topics of interest about the rail system in our communities.

Rail Safety

Illinois Commerce Commission.  The Illinois Commerce Commission is the official resource for railroad safety questions and complaints in Illinois. The ICC administers a number of important programs and is responsible for rail safety in Illinois. The Federal Railroad Administration has also compiled a useful listing of state laws and regulations affecting highway-rail grade crossings (updated, 2009).

Operation Lifesaver.  Illinois Commerce Commission hosts the state's Operation Lifesaver program. There are over 150 trained Operation Lifesaver presenters in Illinois who make about 4,000 presentations to over 300,000 people each year. The ICC can arrange Operation Lifesaver presentations anywhere in the state at any time. Here is a link to the Operation Lifesaver Pamphlet. Interested parties may also contact the statewide coordinator directly.

Illinois Operation Lifesaver
Chip Pew, State Coordinator
580 Vine Avenue
Highland Park, IL 60035
(847) 433-3943
email: Chip Pew

Public Education and Enforcement Research Study (PEERS) Grants.  The Illinois Commerce Commission administers a grant program to issue small grants to local communities and non-profits to implement specialized education and enforcement programs. The program is called the Public Education and Enforcement Research Study (PEERS). The ICC project manager for the PEERS program can be contacted directly for detail.

Steve Laffey, Railroad Safety Specialist and PEERS Project Manager
Illinois Commerce Commission
527 East Capitol Avenue
Springfield, Illinois 62701
(217) 785-9026
email: Steve Laffey

Grade Crossing Maintenance.  Railroads are responsible for maintaining the warning devices and crossing surfaces at the crossing. Local highway authorities are responsible for maintaining advance warning signs that are not on the railroad right-of-way. Excessively rough crossings may be reported to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), who will investigate and contact the railroad if repa irs should be made. Complaints and inquiries of any nature concerning railroad safety may may be submitted on-line or by telephone to the ICC. Locate contact information for submitting ICC complaints.

Malfunctioning Warning Devices.  The railroad that owns the tracks over the crossing is responsible for maintaining the warning devices. When the devices are not working, there is typically an 800 number posted on the warning device or on the signal cabinet near the device. The posted information should also include a DOT identification number. The public should call the posted telephone number and identify the crossing by the DOT identification number to the person answering the phone (who will normally be a part of the railroad's police service, or communications office). The ICC's Emergency Notification Telephone Numbers for Railroads and Public Highway-Rail Crossings in Illinois shows what the posted telephone number looks like, and includes a list of railroad telephone numbers by railroad company, and a list of grade crossing identification numbers by location (county, road crossed). The Illinois Commerce Commission has also recently developed a searchable crossing database containing this information.

Funding Railroad Grade Crossing Improvements.  Improvements to crossings on state routes are IDOT's jurisdiction. IDOT uses Federal Section 130 money to fund a limited number of improvements each year. Illinois currently receives about $7 to $8 million annually in Section 130 funds. Crossings on local roads and streets can be improved using the Grade Crossing Protection Fund (GCPF) which the Illinois Commerce Commission administers. The GCPF receives $27 million a year and can typically upgrade about 100 crossings and assist in the funding of new and rebuilt grade separations. The ICC accepts applications in the fall and selects the projects in the spring, with the 5-year plan published in April. These funds are not used to create quiet zones. Information about this program and links to recent approved 5-year programs can be found on the ICC Crossing Safety Improvement Program site.

Pedestrian Crossing Safety at or Near Passenger Stations.  The Federal Railroad Administration has developed guidance regarding pedestrian crossing safety near passenger rail stations. The document explains a number of strategies that are effective in reducing pedestrian fatalities at such sites. Railroads, transit agencies, the ICC, and local communities can use the guidance to develop projects to improve station safety.

Railroad Fencing.  Railroads are required to maintain existing fences, but are not required to install fences, except in a few cases in farm areas. Inter-track fences near Metra stations to prevent trespassing are highly recommended, but not required and are left up to each railroad to install and maintain. Fences along the way can be installed through a cooperative effort of the railroad and city involved. Railroads may be reluctant to install fences because they require quite a bit of maintenance and can be easily cut, etc. Some communities, such as Villa Park, have successfully worked with railroads to install fencing. Villa Park is probably an example of how a railroad and community worked together to address a serious trespassing issue.

Hazardous Materials.  The Illinois Commerce Commission has a staff of approximately 25 inspectors who inspect hazardous material shipments in Illinois. They also inspect track, signals and operating practices of the railroads. Complaints and inquiries of any nature concerning railroad safety may may be submitted on-line or by telephone to the ICC. The ICC has posted annual reports on accidents and incidents involving hazardous materials on railroads in Illinois since 1998.

Sounding of Horns & Quiet Zones

On November 2, 1994, Congress passed the Swift Rail Development Act, Public Law 103–440 (‘‘Act'') which added section 20153 to title 49 of the United States Code (‘‘title 49''). Subsections (I) and (j) were added on October 9, 1996 when section 20153 was amended by Public Law 104–264. The Act requires the use of locomotive horns at public highway-rail grade crossings, but gives FRA the authority to make reasonable exceptions." (Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 159 / Thursday, August 17, 2006 / Rules and Regulations) The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is responsible for determining whether a railroad at-grade crossing can safely be excluded from the sounding of horns. For more information on this topic, please visit the FRA website.  

CMAP has developed a "Quiet Crossing" map, updated in 2013. Only public at-grade crossings where motorists drive over railroad tracks and which are currently excused from trains routinely sounding their horns 24 hours a day or only at night-time are shown.

The map depicts four types of quiet crossings:

  1. New 24 hour quiet crossing under FRA Quiet Zone Rule. These are public at- grade crossings which have met the requirements to be excused from routine train horn sounding 24 hours a day under the 2005 FRA Final Quiet Zone Rule.
  2. New night-time quiet crossing under FRA Quiet Zone rule. These are public at- grade crossings in the region which have met the requirements to be excused from routine train horn sounding at night only.
  3. Pre-Rule 24 hour quiet crossing (existing Dec. 18, 2003). These are public at-grade crossings in the region which had a 24 hour ban of routine train horn sounding in effect before Oct. 9, 1996 and in place as of Dec. 18, 2003 which was the date that the FRA published the Interim Final Rule. The 2005 FRA Final Quiet Zone Rule has temporarily exempted these crossings from the new rule pending a re-analysis of grade crossing data for the area.
  4. Pre-Rule night-time quiet crossing (existing Dec. 18, 2003) These are public at- grade crossings in the region which had a night-time ban of routine train horn sounding in effect before Oct. 9, 1996 and in place as of Dec. 18, 2003. The 2005 FRA Quiet Zone Rule has also temporarily exempted these crossings from the new rule pending a re-analysis of grade crossing data for the area.

Blocked Crossings

The State of Illinois did enact a law prohibiting trains from blocking crossings for longer than 10 minutes, but that rule was determined to be void. The State can not generally pass laws that interfere with interstate commerce or with the Federal Railroad Administration (see the FRA Blocked Crossing Fact Sheet).

Rail Crossings Impacts on Auto Traffic

The impact of rail traffic on automobile traffic is another important topic to local communities. The ICC studied this issue and produced a report in 2002 titled Motorist Delay at Public Highway - Rail Grade Crossings in Northeastern Illinois (view 2011 Update). The ICC concluded that "Grade crossing delays are concentrated at a relatively few locations ...69 percent of the region's grade crossings delay 100 or fewer vehicles on a typical weekday...(while there are)...139 locations where there are at least 1,000 vehicles delayed each day, or motorists experience 21 hours or more of total delay per weekday." (page 2)

Metra Station Maintenance

The Metra Rail system includes 239 community rail stations. As a rule, these stations are maintained by the municipality hosting the station. If you have questions or complaints about station conditions, you should contact your city or village public works department.

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