November 24, 2005 in Nation/World

Train bashes several cars at crossing

David Brummer Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Police officers walk past one of several vehicles struck by a commuter train during rush hour in the Chicago suburb of Elmwood Park on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

ELMWOOD PARK, Ill. – A commuter train slammed into several vehicles caught in a traffic jam on a busy road Wednesday evening, starting a chain reaction that damaged more than a dozen cars and injured at least 16 people, authorities said.

Three people were in critical condition, Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.

Cars were strewn about the area and other drivers were helping rescue people trapped inside as emergency crews arrived around 5 p.m. Two people had to be extricated from their vehicles, including a woman whose car caught fire after she was out, Elmwood Park Fire Chief Michael Marino said.

The rail crossing where the accident occurred cuts through a busy diagonal intersection, and a street sign beside the tracks reads: “Long crossing. Do not stop on the tracks.”

Wednesday evening, cars were backed up on the road, and the traffic was stop-and-go when the express train headed from Chicago to Antioch came through.

Pardonnet said it appeared that crossing gates were working properly when the train went through the intersection, though witnesses gave conflicting reports.

Christina Rodriguez, 29, of Chicago said her car and several others were trapped between the crossing gate arms when they came down.

“I saw the train lights,” she said. “I tried to move, but I couldn’t move. Nobody moved.” She said she jumped from her car seconds before the crash and ran to safety.

John Pease, 32, who lives near the site, said he didn’t see any warning lights flashing. “The gates were definitely up,” he said.

Greg Sandford, 27, said he didn’t see any flashing lights when he drove across the tracks. He was about five car lengths away when he saw the crash in his rear view mirror.

“The van in front of me stopped short and I stopped short, and 30 seconds later the Metra train just plowed through,” Sandford said. “The train hit maybe six or eight cars, and they hit other cars and they careened into my car.”

Three people on the train and 13 outside it were injured, Pardonnet said. Two women were listed in serious condition at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, spokeswoman Anne Dillon said.

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