The Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Safety Analysis maintains a “Web Accident Prediction System,” which calculates the probability of a collision, using past accidents and current traffic statistics, including the number of tracks, safety systems like gates and flashing lights, and the speed of trains passing by. Stefan Holt reports.
Though the chances of a rail accident anywhere are small, the rail crossing in the Chicago area most likely to experience some sort of accident within the next 12 months is at North Nagle Avenue and North Northwest Highway on the northwest side.
That statistic comes from federal authorities, as presented by the Federal Railroad Administration's Web Accident Prediction System.
The FRA calculates the probability of a collision, using past accidents and current traffic statistics, including the number of tracks, the presence of safety systems like gates and flashing lights, and the speed of trains passing by.
The intersection of Nagle and Northwest Highway didn't experience any sort of accident in 2012 or 2011, but there were two in 2010 and one each year in 2009 and 2009, making it statistically the most likely intersection in the city to have some sort of accident.
The intersections rounding out the "Top Five:" the intersection of Grand and North 77th Avenue in Elmwood Park, the intersection at 95th and Vincennes in Chicago, the intersection at 119th and Vincennes in Chicago, and the intersection at Stony Island and 71st Street in Chicago.
Dr. Ian Savage from Northwestern University has studied grade crossings and how these predictions can help decision-makers. He says the predictions are used to determine which crossings should receive improvements.
"These are numerical calculations," said Savage. "There are a bunch of things which you can’t quantify. And that’s why you have to have site visits. What’s the geometry of the crossing? Is there a hump there? What are the sight lines like?"
Metra’s Director of Safety and Rules, Hilary Konczal, said the transit agency looks at prediction statistics as well as near-miss reports filed by engineers. Another key component to help Metra determine which crossings need improvements is video -- recorded by a camera in front of locomotives.
"So we can identify what people are doing at these crossings when we almost hit them or there is a near-miss," she explained.
In some cases, the information leads to improvement with bells, gates, and better signage. But Metra also employs public outreach, educating their riders -- and pedestrians -- to keep off the tracks.
"For the most part, people do respect the grade crossing and the warning devices. It’s the very few that don’t, that we worry about," Konczal added.
Top 25 Great-Chicago Railroad Crossings Most Likely To Have An Accident: