Yesterday, our Chicago personal injury lawyers discuss the tragic train crash at a University Park railroad crossing on Friday evening, which killed Katie Lunn, a 28-year-old Chicago dance instructor who was driving home from a dance performance at nearby Governors State University. According to a new Chicago Tribune report in which various anonymous investigators were interviewed, Canadian National (CN) Railway workers knew the railroad crossing gates and warning lights were malfunctioning, and were conducting a “test run” at the time of the accident. According to one investigator, “The CN crew came back specifically to test the crossing system with that northbound Amtrak train at about 9:30 pm.”
In other words, CN let the Amtrak train pass through the intersection at 78 miles per hour in peak vehicle traffic hour — and when the railroad gates and warning lights malfunctioned once again, a helpless Katie Lunn, stuck in traffic in her SUV in the middle of the railroad intersection, was struck and killed by the Amtrak train. A CN technician who witnessed the accident even tried to run up to Ms. Lunn’s car to save her, but was too late.
Questions have soon turned to outrage at how the railroad company could have allowed this Amtrak train to run full speed through this intersection despite its knowledge that the grade-crossing protection system was not working properly. The investigation seems to indicate that the railroad crossing warning system was inadvertently turned off by track maintenance crews installing a nearby interlocking system.
This story epitomizes the degree of negligent conduct, which too often results in catastrophic injury or wrongful death. According to investigators, earlier that day the railroad company (knowing the crossing warning system was not working) instituted an order requiring trains to either stop short of the railroad crossing and await instructions from personnel holding flags, or reduce their speed to 15 mph through the intersection. Either process likely would have prevented this crash from occurring. However, railroad officials thought they had fixed the defective railroad crossing warning system, and lifted the order several hours before the accident.
As stated by one investigator, “Where was the fail-safe to prevent this tragedy? That’s where the problem is. [CN] didn’t do it right.” And they should be held accountable for their careless or reckless conduct.
As for Amtrak, it is too early in the investigation to know whether it shares in responsibility for this accident. The Tribune noted an important train technology that could prevent these sorts of accidents in the future. “Positive train control” is installed on board locomotives and notifies the train’s engineer when vehicles are sitting on the tracks and when the railroad crossing system is not working. The train would automatically stop the train in this type of situation.
Hopefully, the individuals and entities responsible for allowing this tragic accident to occur , which took the life of a promising young Chicago woman, will be held accountable in the civil justice system through a wrongful death lawsuit.
For a Free Consultation with a top Chicago train accident lawyer with Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500 or fill out a Free Case Evaluation.