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Metra Safety Regarding Pedestrian Incidents and Awareness

On Jan. 9, 15-year-old Farid Hussain was killed by a Metra train just north of the Lake Forest, IL Metra stop. On Feb. 26, the body of 18-year-old Lake Forest High School student, Edward Schutt was found after being struck by a train, and on Feb. 28 William Laskero-Teskoski was also found dead as a result of being hit by a Metra train in Lake Forest. There have also been reports of pedestrians being killed by oncoming Metra trains in the suburbs of Lombard, Hanover Park, Ravenswood and Bensenville in the past year.

The incident that really took me by surprise was when I was taking the train from Lake Forest to Ogilvie Transportation Center on the Union Pacific North Line and it struck a pedestrian at the Evanston Davis Street stop just before the train was due to arrive at the platform. The conductor announced over the loudspeaker that he needed back up at the front of the train, and they were told to hurry. Immediately, there was a sense of concern and confusion that flushed my fellow passengers faces as they shot looks back and forth in an attempt to gain further information. We were informed that the train would be delayed due to a pedestrian incident, and police began to arrive and ask the passengers if they had seen anything before the train stopped.

My window seat was facing the station’s platform and I observed the police and Metra officials as they arrived. The police used their flashlights and began looking under the train while pacing back and forth to assess the situation. It was a chilling scene because at this point, passengers were unaware as to what the facts were regarding the pedestrian incident, so many people assumed the worst and demanded to know what the police could possibly be looking for underneath us. In the 90 minutes that we were stopped at Evanston Davis street, many people on the train started looking up news on their phones informing fellow riders of any new information they came across. There was a strange feeling that passed through the train, made up of a mix of irritation, confusion and panic while it also created a sense of community in that strangers were helping one another in a time of stress and uncertainty.

Metra trains have been a cheap and easy form of transportation for Chicagoans for many years, with 750 trains currently running daily and 580 rail crossings it has become a very important mode of commuting for a lot of Chicago citizens and community members from surrounding suburbs. However, recently there have been pedestrian related incidents resulting in fatal injuries by trains. In the first 3 months of 2012 three high school students committed suicide by throwing themselves in front of moving Metra trains. Other incidents include pedestrians who are on the platform and either trip and fall or are inebriated and struck by the trains.

Hussain’s death was the only incident that was officially ruled a suicide, however authorities have stated that all three incidents in Lake Forest appeared to be suicides. There is little information available about the other Metra pedestrian incidents. These tragedies took one town by storm and brought attention not only to issues in the local high school of Lake Forest and in other suburbs, but also the scary realization that anyone can get as close to a moving Metra train as they want.

These events have led community members to wonder why tragic events like this can occur and what can be done to stop them. It seems to boil down to the question of whether or not this issue is Metra’s responsibility, or if the schools and communities should be informing their citizens of the dangers and conduct more efficient counseling for teens in the local high schools.

I contacted Metra themselves and was able to have a conversation with a spokesperson for their company via e-mail regarding Metra’s efforts to avoid any incidents involving their trains. Metra has two programs in place for educating communities about train safety. The Operation Lifesaver Train Safety Awareness Program is a comprehensive train safety program that educates children and adults about the dangers of Metra trains, and have conducted 950 free presentations to school age children. Operation Lifesaver has been cited by the American Public Transportation Association as an industry best program

The other aspect of Operation Lifesaver is what they call the Blitz Program. In this case there are teams made up of presenters, representatives of Metra’s Safety Department and Metra police officers who conduct about 50 “blitzes” a year at multiple Metra locations. These occur in the morning when the trains are full of passengers and they are given a shortened version of the Operation Lifesaver safety presentation and the team members will also engage the commuters in conversations about safety and answer questions as well as hand out a brochure for safety tips.

The spokesperson for Metra indicated that “safety is our ‘North Star’; our highest priority and our guiding principle”. They noted that they are very active in rail safety efforts and they believe that with their programs in place and continued education on rail safety in communities the incidents will decrease and it will absolutely help, yet won’t be fully erased. “The real frustrating thing is that if people deliberately ignore safety warning of clear danger, no one can change their behavior or save them. It’s really up to each individual to be aware.”

Todd Nahigian, the manager of an after school youth program called CROYA in the City of Lake Forest which works very closely with the high school was able to give me some information on how the community has reacted to these tragedies and how they think changes could be made. In his opinion, the suicides were somewhat of a “fever” ideology “as far as a train is concerned, if there are fences…it may take the opportunity away just enough that the persons ‘fever’ has time to lessen and they don’t attempt suicide at that time. It doesn’t mean you’ve solved their issues, but at least you’ve helped that 1 situation”.

One of the main things that has taken place in Lake Forest is the Community Wellness Task Force which includes members from the schools, churches, youth groups, police and other organizations who have had many meetings and events regarding solutions to these difficulties. The most recent Wellness Task Force press release states that “the tragic circumstances have provided an opportunity for our community partners to work together to accomplish a goal that is vitally important and only possible through a partnership”.

In April, after the third suicide took place there were a string of panels and discussions with city officials, students and prominent community members in which adults were able to share their experiences and help encourage high school students to be brave and courageous in seeking support. There is a new Peer Training curriculum being taught at Lake Forest High School by members of the staff and a major component is how to do early assessment and make referrals for peers in serious situations.

There are many possible solutions to this problem and it seems as though communities have come together to make a change and the most important aspect at this point is the sharing of information and actively trying to make people listen and acknowledge its’ importance.

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.