11/29/2005Illinois: Tiny Town Makes Big Money with Rail Cameras
Railroad crossing cameras make a quarter million dollars for Wood Dale, Illinois, population 13,000.
Some local officials are pointing to photo ticketing as a way to prevent tragic train crashes such as the one that occurred last week in Elmwood Park, Illinois. A Metra commuter train traveling 68 MPH struck five vehicles trapped on the tracks by unsynchronized traffic lights. Nearby, the police chief in Wood Dale is touting the benefits of his railroad crossing enforcement camera system.
Proponents of the technology explain that a $250 ticket is mailed to the registered owner of a car that drives around the crossing gates in an attempt to beat the train. The ticket doubles to $500 for a second offense, deterring violators.
According to a 2003 Federal Railroad Administration report describing the Los Angeles, California rail cameras, 96.5 percent of violations are issued before the twelve seconds it takes for the crossing gates to come down. "Metrolink concluded that most motorists are racing against gates and not trains," the report stated.
Contrary to the initial assertions, the number of violations has not dropped dramatically in Wood Dale since the system was installed. Instead, the town of just 13,000 residents issued nearly 1000 photo tickets worth $250,000 in 2004. In its first year of operation, 1999, the system generated 830 citations.
In October 2000, a DuPage County judge forced Wood Dale to cease issuing photo tickets because of the unreliability of the evidence. The legislature passed a new law placing the presumption of guilt upon the motorist which allowed ticketing to resume in May 2002.