On Friday, according to officials, truck driver Kazimierz Karasek was heading northwest on the Northwest Highway and attempted to turn left onto Mount Prospect Road. Police were told by witnesses that the train crossing gates were down, the warning lights operational and the no-left-turn sign illuminated.
As the train went through the intersection headed southeast at an estimated 50 mph, the truck was on the tracks. The resulting impact sheared the trailer from the cab. The train came to a stop after clearing the crossing, its second car black with soot. A fire had broken out when the truck’s fuel tanks exploded.
According to commuter John Black, 44, of Barrington, who was sitting on the train in the second car from the front:
“We were motoring along. I heard the voice say, ‘Next stop,’ then there was a huge impact.” Also according to Black, “It was so violent that the train was just shaking side to side like a roller coaster. Instantly, there were flames all over the outside of the train and the cabin began to fill up with smoke.”
“The scariest thing was that we didn’t know if it was a bomb or something else,” said Brad Ball, 30, of Woodstock.
Terrified passengers jumped screaming from windows and doors of the Metra Union Pacific Northwest Line train at about 8:40 a.m. after the inbound train collided with the concrete-carrying truck, causing a derailment of the front car of the train.
Twenty-six passengers, as well as the train engineer, were taken to area hospitals. Another 10 were treated on the scene. None of the injuries appeared life-threatening, according to officials.
It does not appear as if the gates at the crossing were malfunctioning; Union Pacific spokesman Wes Lujan said the gates at the crossing were “operating as designed.”
“We believe that he drove around the gates,” Lujan said at a news conference.
He said the crossing’s design is an “issue” because the tracks are diagonal to Mount Prospect Road. But he added, “There’s no reason to go around (the gates).”
Federal records show 13 previous accidents at the crossing since 1975. Most collisions have been caused by motorists driving around the lowered gates. The worst was a similar incident in 1997, which killed one person and injured another. In that incident, a truck drove around the gates, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
More on this story can be found in a May 13 Chicago Tribune article titled “Truck driver killed by Metra train had DUI, more than 50 citations.”