(Highwood, Illinois – October 2, 2011)
The grieving mother of a U.S. Navy sailor who died after being struck by a Metra Express passenger train in Highwood, IL, only hours after his graduation from Naval Hospital Corps School is on a one-woman crusade for improved passenger safety at Metra stations, especially Highwood.
Patricia Church of Aliso Viejo, CA, lost her only child, Navy Corpsman Chase Church, on February 8, when he and several USN classmates went to the Highwood Metra Station to board a train to return to base. Ms. Church was in Chicago to see her son graduate 3rd in his class and first rode Metra herself, purchasing a ticket and boarding at Waukegan, IL. Metra station. She was stunned by the fact that, in order to get to the boarding platform, passengers had to walk on the railroad tracks themselves. Ms. Church questioned the practice to other, experienced passengers, feeling the boarding process was highly questionable.
“In California, where I’m from, when you take the train you never step on the tracks,” she said. But, the next night, her son did and was struck by a train his companions said “He didn’t see coming.”
His mother said that her son’s death was caused by inadequate railroad safety measures along with the existence of a blind spot due to a curve in the Union Pacific tracks, over which Metra trains operate through Highwood, cars in the parking lot, snow, inadequate lighting and the unexpected arrival of a late-running express train – the one which killed her son.
For months, Ms. Church has fought a long-distance battle with the city of Highwood, Metra, Union Pacific, the Illinois Commerce Commission and Illinois DOT from her home in California. She believes Chase would be alive today if the crosswalk had pedestrian gates, something at which the railroad balks.
“There are no other stations in the state that have pedestrian gates at grade crossings”, says Illinois Commerce Commission railroad safety specialist Chip Pew. Even though Pew is a state employee, he performs most of his duties as state coordinator of the Illinois Operation Lifesaver, railroad-controlled advocacy and education group on state time.
“The Union Pacific did not want to create a situation where they have to put those everywhere,” Pew continued. However, since Chase’s fatality, UPRR has installed 2,000’ of fencing along the tracks in Highwood.
“There is also talk about improving the warning devices,” reports Adrienne Fawcett, staff writer for The Gazebo News, who penned the first of three planned articles the publication plans in regard to railroad safety in Lake County, IL.
“I asked the boys (who were with Chase) point blank that if there was a pedestrian crossing gate like they have at street crossings, would it have made a difference? They each said yes, definitely, as then they would have known to stop. They were absolutely adamant that Chase would not be dead,” attested Patricia Church.