By Adrienne Fawcett
Metra’s top brass was in Lake Forest for a meet and greet with the Men’s Club at Dickenson Hall on Thursday. Most of the presentation by CEO Donald Orseno, board Chairman Martin Oberman and board member Norm Carlson focused on Metra’s financial issues, but many of the guests were interested in something else: Is anything being done to enhance safety at the west Lake Forest Metra station? The depot has been the site of five of the 12 pedestrian deaths that have occurred in Lake Forest since 2003. All but one were determined to be accidental.
“There’s no funding for a tunnel,” said Mr. Carlson, when asked about the potential for a pedestrian underpass.
Metra provided $3.7 million for a pedestrian underpass that is under construction in Lombard, and Union Pacific Railroad is covering $3.3 million of the estimated $8.1 million expense.
If a tunnel can be funded in Lombard, why not in Lake Forest? Lake Forest has the 2nd highest pedestrian railroad fatality rate per capita in the Chicago metropolitan area, tied with Villa Park and second only to Barrington, according to research by Northwestern University economics professor Ian Savage.
Metra Board Chairman Oberman said Lombard’s underpass was years in the making and driven largely by Union Pacific Railroad. Canadian Pacific travels through west Lake Forest on the Milwaukee District Line and has not expressed an interest in funding a tunnel. Metra has no money for such a project, Mr. Oberman said, echoing his colleague.
An Amtrak spokesman earlier this week told GazeboNews that Amtrak has “no plans at all to stop in Lake Forest.”
What about signs? Can signage at the west Lake Forest depot be improved to make it clear where to go and that the station has dangerous dynamics?
As it is now, signage is scarce. For example:
- There are no signs to indicate that high-speed Amtrak and Canadian Pacific trains go thru the station without stopping. Prior to the start of Thursday’s meeting, one of the attendees who lives close to the west Lake Forest station mentioned a dangerous scenario she has seen at the station countless times: as a Metra train approaches, an announcement is broadcast to the platform identifying the incoming Metra train. As riders look in one direction to see the Metra train, they are unaware and uninformed that another train – Amtrak at times – is approaching from the other direction at 70 miles per hour and will pass thru the station without stopping.
- There are no signs across from the station or on the station itself indicating direction. The only signs that indicate direction are two standard platform signs that say “Lake Forest” and they are 100 yards apart from each other and basically impossible to see from the platform outside the station. The sign at the south end of the platform is 35 yards from the station; the sign to the north is 65 yards from the station at the pedestrian crossing.
- The Metra schedule on the station’s exterior wall shows Chicago as the southbound destination and Fox Lake as the northern destination. But on the platform, Fox Lake isn’t on any sign. This is unusual and a possible source of confusion for travelers unfamiliar with the station. Most railroad companies indicate direction by posting the endpoints of the line.
- The only directional cues at the west Lake Forest station are 3-inch subheads on the standard Metra signs that say “To Chicago” with an arrow pointing south, and “From Chicago” with an arrow pointing north.
- Even the orientation of the Metra map is confusing: When you are facing the Metra schedule (which is located on the exterior of the station wall, behind a plexiglass frame), the Chicago stop is on your right. But the actual city is to your left. If you are not from here, how do you know that?
- There are no signs anywhere that say tracks might switch and point trains in the opposite direction from their regular route.