Railroad News

$6 Million Settlement In Rail Crossing Death Reached In Less Than 2 Years

(University Park, Illinois – March 29, 2012)

The tragic death of a 26-year-old professional dance instructor who was hit by an Amtrak passenger train going 79 mph at a gated, signalized Canadian National crossing which CN crews had deactivated in the Chicago suburb of University Park, IL on April 16, 2010, was recently settled for $6 million after numerous violations of federal and railroad regulations by the CN signal crew working on the crossing were exposed by investigators.

Katie Ann Lunn’s SUV was stuck in traffic at Stuenkel Road and Governor’s Highway when the Carbondale, IL to Chicago train barreled into her vehicle without any warning due to the signal crew having de-activated the lights, bells and gates intended to provide protection for motorists from trains.

The Stuenkel Road crossing had been the site of five previous accidents, resulting in four injuries, but the Lunn tragedy was the first fatality.

The report made by Amtrak to the Federal Railroad Administration admitted in the narrative description that “The automatic warning devices did not operate properly to provide warning.” In actuality, the three-man CN signal crew had inadvertently disabled the crossing gates and warning lights as they committed more than a dozen violations of FRA and CN rules, and attempted to cover up such as federal “Hours of Service” regulations and responsibility, as the investigation proved only a member of the 3-man CN crew could have made the programming error that led to the tragedy, “But when interviewed, no one of the three admitted to making the program change” that gave only two seconds of warning instead of the required 20 before the Amtrak train hit the victim’s car, killing her instantly.

Meanwhile, “Both signal inspectors corrected their signalmen’s hours of service log …to reflect the actual hours worked, once (the Federal Railroad Administration) questioned the validity of their original logs,” according to the investigative report.

Investigators also found that “The Stuenkel Road crossing-protection system had been turned off by Canadian National track maintenance crews working on track switches in the area. An order to stop train traffic was lifted, and flagmen were removed from the crossing before the warning system was successfully reactivated and thorough testing could be completed, leaving the crossing unprotected.”

Canadian National Spokesman Patrick Waldron said Wednesday that the railroad has “admitted liability” in the accident.

The victim’s family intends to use the settlement money to support the “Keep the Smile Alive Katie Lunn Fund,” with “our primary focus has been and will continue to be the safety of others,” said family member Jerry Lunn. “We will continue to work toward that goal with the hope that future loss of life can be prevented.”