About 4:41 p.m. on November 23, 2005, the day before Thanksgiving, in Elmwood Park, Illinois, a traffic queue formed within the 366-foot-wide signaled METRA highway-railroad grade crossing on eastbound West Grand Avenue. At the same time, METRA train 107 was approaching the crossing on the westbound tracks at a speed of 70 mph, as indicated by event data recorder information. The crossing lights activated and the crossing gates lowered 54 seconds before the train arrived. The traffic queue trapped some stopped vehicles within the grade crossing.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the Elmwood Park accident was a combination of factors that led to the development of a traffic queue on the West Grand Avenue highway-rail grade crossing and prevented queued vehicles from exiting the crossing prior to the arrival of a Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad (METRA) train: the factors were the acute angle of intersection between West Grand Avenue and the railroad tracks, which resulted in an exceptionally wide grade crossing; the unusually heavy vehicle traffic that preceded the Thanksgiving holiday; and the complex street and rail pattern and related signal interactions between Harlem Avenue and the West Grand Avenue grade crossing, which frequently desynchronized the traffic signals along West Grand Avenue during peak travel times.
As a result of this accident investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board made the safety recommendation listed below. For more information about the Safety Board's recommendation, see the accompanying safety recommendation letter.
To the Governor of Illinois:
Require the Illinois Commerce Commission and the Illinois Department of Transportation to construct a grade separation in place of the West Grand Avenue grade crossing, and provide the necessary resources to effect this change. (H-08-2)