The Elwood Police Department released a video today of an 18-wheel semi-truck breaking through the railroad crossing gates at Walter Strawn Drive and Route 53, avoiding what could have been a tragic collision with a loaded Amtrak passenger train.
Law enforcement authorities released the video to demonstrate just how dangerous the intersection has become. “Unfortunately, highly dangerous, life-threatening close calls like those shown in this video have become business as usual in Elwood,” said Village President William Offerman, noting that heavy truck traffic in and out of the village has increased to more than 8,000 trucks each day. “The mere fact that we had more than 50 incidents just like this of trucks breaking through gates in 2013 alone is exactly why we had to take action before a real tragedy occurs.”
The video, taken from an Elwood Police camera mounted to the dashboard of a squad car, records the semi crashing through the lowering gates while stopped at the intersection and blocking the train tracks. In order to avoid a collision with an oncoming Amtrak passenger train, the driver is left with no choice but to break through the gates to reach safety. In recent weeks, the Village has taken action to improve safety by making traffic flow adjustments, which has helped limit congestion and reduce the number of blocked intersections and train crossings. But the owner of the intermodal facility, CenterPoint Properties, continues to thwart the Village’s attempts to make the roads safer by filing a lawsuit that claims no danger exists. On Tuesday, a federal court judge rejected CenterPoint’s request for a temporary restraining order.
“I refuse to put corporate interests ahead of the safety of the people of Elwood,” Offerman said. “The Village of Elwood has a duty as a steward of the public to ensure the safety and well-being of its residents. CenterPoint’s attempts to disregard the danger at this crossing and the harm that truck traffic plays in causing that danger while lives are placed at risk each and every day is frankly shocking.” As a result of the increased traffic, trucks are unable to clear the tracks before the gates close, causing gate breakages and near-collisions with speeding trains, while creating dangerous conditions at nearby roads and intersections. These instances have raised concerns among the public, the Village, local businesses, law enforcement, the State of Illinois and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Documented instances include: the tragic death of an 8-year-old girl after a March 17 collision with a truck, which also left her sister seriously injured; more than 50 rail crossing gates that were shattered by trucks at the Walter Strawn rail crossing at Route 53 in 2013 alone; a near collision involving an Amtrak passenger train and a stalled semi-truck last year; and daily complaints received by the Village involving the funeral processions of deceased U.S. Armed Services veterans that are routinely interrupted on Route 53 heading to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. More than 8,000 heavy trucks a day cross the tracks and nearly one million containers are brought in and out of the Elwood International Port Authority (EIPA) each year.
In 2004, the Illinois Commerce Commission permitted the railway crossing to handle only between 700 and 1,800 trucks a day until 2023. Recognizing the public safety risks posed by the facility, the Village hired the Chicago-based traffic engineering firm of Baxter & Woodman to help develop a comprehensive plan that would allow the Village to maximize traffic flow while making sure that any risks to the public were minimized. In an attempt to rectify these issues and increase public safety, the Village Board took action within its home-rule powers to divert trucks, including: prohibiting trucks from making left turns from Baseline Road on to Walter Strawn Drive; prohibiting right turns from Walter Strawn Drive on to Baseline Road; and prohibiting trucks from using CenterPoint Drive as a main thoroughfare.
In addition, the Village is encouraging trucks to use the new interchange at I-55 and Arsenal Road, which was completed in 2012 and designed specifically to handle the increased truck traffic and relieve congestion in the area. Regarding this matter
, Village officials have met with all local businesses within the EIPA, each of which has agreed with the recommendations. CenterPoint, meanwhile, has never proposed making any changes to improve safety, and has ignored Elwood’s attempts to meet with Village officials. The Village’s home-rule powers provide the authority to make necessary adjustments to improve traffic flow and public safety. The Village Board voted in favor of the resolution, calling for the changes in the traffic flow at its May 21 meeting. This meeting was attended by CenterPoint officials who remained silent, making no objections. Video