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Driver goes around crossing arms, struck by oncoming train near Mattoon, officials say
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PUBLIC SAFETY | Coles county

Driver goes around crossing arms, struck by oncoming train near Mattoon, officials say


MATTOON — No injuries were reported after a sport utility vehicle reportedly went around the stop arm at a rail crossing and was struck by a northbound Amtrak train on Thursday.

The collision occurred at approximately 9:55 a.m. at the crossing on Old State Road at approximately County Road 450E, between U.S. Route 45 and South 33rd Street. Coles-Moultrie 911 dispatched emergency responders to the scene.

Chief Jeff Hilligoss of the Mattoon Fire Department said the arriving crews found an SUV on the tracks and an Amtrak train stopped north up the rail line. He said the SUV's two occupants were out of the vehicle and ambulatory. He said no injuries were reported to the motorists or the 30 passengers on the train.

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"It was reported by witnesses that the rail cross arms were down, and all safety lights appeared to be properly functioning at the time of the accident," Hilligoss said. 

Deputy Chief Sam Gaines of the Mattoon Police Department said the eastbound SUV, carrying a 43-year-old female driver and 41-year-old female passenger, reportedly went around the stop arm at the crossing. He said the train struck the front of this vehicle and caused it to spin.

"Luckily, the driver and passenger escaped without injury," Gaines said, reiterating that those on the Amtrak train were fine, too.

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The driver was cited for going around the stop arm, Gaines said. The full crash report for this collision has not been completed by the police department.

Hilligoss said representatives from Amtrak and the Canadian National Railway also are involved in the investigation of the crash.

"The Mattoon Fire Department would like to remind everyone to obey train crossing signals and not drive around the safety arms blocking the tracks," Hilligoss said. "On intersections with no visual warning light, cautiously proceed after checking both directions for an approaching train."

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According to tips on railway safety, Hilligoss said passenger trains can take more than 2,500 feet to stop. Even if the engineers observe a vehicle on the tracks, he said they will be unable to stop the train in time to avoid collisions.

Personnel from the Wabash Fire Protection District and Mitchell-Jerdan Ambulance Service were also dispatched to the scene of the crash.

Both lanes on Old State Road were closed to vehicle traffic while emergency crews were on scene, and the railroad tracks were temporarily closed to rail traffic.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the passenger train was delayed for three hours by the collision but was then able to move on to its stop at the depot in downtown Mattoon on its scheduled route to Chicago.

Southern Illinois University students Tamira Butler, DeVontae Johnson and JaeAnna Pritchard disembarked from the train in Mattoon. Johnson said he had no idea that a collision had occurred until the train stopped and he went back to look through a cafe car window, from which he saw the "totaled" SUV.

Butler said the delay caused by the collision led to them missing their flight in Chicago, so they made arrangements for a ride to pick them up in Mattoon. 

"It is what it is. You never know what is going to happen," Butler said.

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Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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