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With gas prices soaring, many are opting for a greener commute: the train. The Chicago Tribune recently noted this trend, explaining that many commuters are left to pack into the aisles, sit on stairs, or wait in the vestibule. While that might be good news for the environment (and Metra), it’s hardly a positive development for train safety.

Ridership is up; it was up by more than a million passengers (or 5%) in the first four months of 2008. One can only imagine the surge now that summer is upon us! And for those of you picturing one or two people standing, waiting to get off the train, you’re wrong. Picture shoulder-to-shoulder people, jockeying for seats and struggling to stay standing. In fact, just this month, a twenty-year rider experienced a first: he couldn’t get on the train. That’s right, the vestibule was so packed that there wasn’t even a way to wedge himself in, leaving the man stranded until the next train.

And while some might argue that the comparatively low cost of train tickets and its benefit to the environment is worth a little discomfort, the safety problem this space crunch creates is palpable. The June 20th freak accident on the Rock Island Metra line highlights this safety concern.

As reported, around 7:30 a.m., a woman was standing in the vestibule of a train car when one of the car’s steel doors came crashing down upon her. She was rushed to the hospital in serious condition. What happened? Apparently, the door crashed into her after being hit by a dislodged crossing gate. The crossing gate split the seam of a sliding train door. Metra reports that this is the first time anything of this nature has ever happened on the line.

The details of this tragic accident are still forthcoming. We don’t know if the injured woman was waiting for her stop and simply happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, or if there simply wasn’t any place for her to sit. Either way, it calls our attention to the potentially dire consequences of packing those cars so tightly every day.

As I’ve written before, it’s important that you do all that you can to stay safe while riding the rails. Let’s hope that Metra also does its part to develop a more comfortable commute and safer situation for its growing community of riders.

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