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Amtrak: Cars Cause Problems

The investigation of the deadly Amtrak crash in Bourbonnais, Illinois has just begun, but Amtrak officials and engineers have long complained about vehicles being where they shouldn't be: on railroad tracks.

Emergency crews arriving at the scene of Monday night's collision involving a New Orleans-bound passenger train and a steel-hauling truck found the rail crossing lights working, but they were checking to determine if they were on at the time of the collision.

In 1997, 245 Amtrak trains were involved in accidents reportable to the Federal Railroad Administration, according to Amtrak statistics.

They caused 1,020 crew injuries and 266 passenger injuries, most of which were minor.

Of all the reportable accidents, 183, or 74 percent, were attributable to motor vehicle operator inattention or impatience.

Some 114 of those accidents occurred at crossings with active warning devices, such as gates, flashing lights and bells.

That same year, 50 highway users died in collisions with Amtrak trains at highway-rail intersections.

Amtrak trains struck and killed another 69 people who were deemed to be trespassing on Amtrak rail line.

Industrywide, collisions at grade crossings killed or seriously injured about 2,100 people in 1996, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics.

Because of its heft, an eight-car passenger train traveling at 79 mph, a standard Amtrak speed, takes over 6,000 feet to stop.

The train involved in Tuesday night's collision was 16 cars in length, or twice as big, and was authorized to travel at 79 mph in Bourbonnais, according to Amtrak officials.

A 150-car freight train traveling at a routine 50 mph needs 8,000 feet to stop, or about 1.5 miles.

By Glen Johnson