CHICAGO (WCIA) — The Illinois Commerce Commission announced that it is investing more than $476 million into railroad crossing improvements throughout the state. This comes alongside the release of the ICC’s annual report on railroad hazmat incidents in the state.
The report found that of the 8,549 inspections of rail cars in the state in 2022, the ICC found violations in just 1.3% of all inspections. For comparison, violations topped 12% when inspections started 40 years ago.
Inspectors conduct frequent field checks of signals, track structure, operating practices and hazardous materials themselves. Along with federal investigators, they focus on railroad mainline tracks, rail yards and the industrial facilities of shippers and consignees of hazardous materials.
Any violations or defects discovered, regardless of severity, must be corrected to prevent serious incidents like the derailment that happened in East Palestine, Ohio last month.
“The disaster in East Palestine has rightfully turned attention to our nation’s rail safety efforts,” said ICC Chairman Carrie Zalewski. “Our hazardous materials report is an important resource for understanding the kinds of incidents that occur on Illinois railways and helps the Commission to inform its ongoing safety measures. Investigating these incidents when they occur is critical, but the goal of routine inspections is ultimately to minimize and prevent these disasters from occurring in the first place.”
The ICC is required by law to prepare a report on hazmat incidents for the Illinois General Assembly that includes the location, substance involved, amounts involved and the suspected reason for the incident, along with the rail line and point of origin of the materials involved.
The release of this report comes at the same time as the ICC approves its annual five-year Crossing Safety Improvement Program. From 2024 to 2028, over $476 million from the Grade Crossing Safety Protection Fund and Rebuild Illinois will help communities and railroads pay for improvements at 424 crossings throughout the state.
“Upgrading pedestrian crossings, flashing warning devices, and other critical safety infrastructure is a no brainer for keeping Illinoisans safe while they traverse rail tracks,” said ICC Commissioner Michael Carrigan. “Over 7,000 miles of track makes our state’s rail system the second largest in the nation, and the Grade Crossing Protection Fund is an essential tool for keeping these railways safe for all who use them.”
The five-year-plan proposes using GCPF dollars to help cover the cost of 34 new bridge projects, 365 new grade crossing projects and 15 low-cost emergency or experimental improvements at 400 locations. These projects include updates to pedestrian and commuter safety.
“The projects in this year’s Crossing Safety Improvement Program reflect the ICC’s commitment to reducing the potential for rail collisions. Improving our state’s existing infrastructure and installing modernized warning signs ahead of tracks are surefire steps to keep people and goods safe as they travel along Illinois’ railways,” said ICC Chairman Carrie Zalewski.
A full list of crossings that will be upgraded under this plan can be found on the ICC website.