BNSF passenger killed during ‘devastating’ fiery collision with stalled truck in Clarendon Hills: officials

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A woman riding an inbound BNSF train was killed Wednesday morning when the train and a truck crashed in a fiery wreck, according to officials.

The wreck was the second in the transit agency’s history to involve a passenger fatality.

Woman killed in Metra collision identified »

The woman’s identity and age were not being immediately released, pending notification of next of kin, according to the DuPage County coroner’s office, which has an autopsy scheduled for Thursday.

BNSF train 1242, which had originated from Downers Grove, collided with the truck about 8:10 a.m. at Prospect Avenue, killing the woman and injuring four others, including two passengers, who had injuries that were not thought to be life-threatening, Metra spokeswoman Meg Thomas-Reile said.

A conductor and an engineer also suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Train 1242 had not been running its normal schedule and was running express to Union Station at the time, because of a mechanical failure that involved another train.

“It was expressing … it wasn’t stopping at Clarendon Hills,” Thomas-Reile said. “They were shuffling around some of the service I’m sure to catch up and get everything back to normal.”

There were likely about 60 or fewer passengers on board, or about 10 per car, judging from reports of runs earlier this week at the same time.

“It’s devastating to all involved,” Thomas-Reile said, adding the only other time Metra had a fatality of a passenger in its history was in 2005.

Wednesday’s crash happened at a rail crossing just past the Clarendon Hills train station, 1 S. Prospect Ave., said Clarendon Hills Fire Chief Brian Leahy.

The truck involved, a box truck about 30 to 40 feet long, had stalled on the tracks.

A public works director for the village happened to be at the station and spotted the truck having troubles, then realized the train was rounding a bend nearby.

“He saw it coming,” Leahy said of the crash.

The train’s engineer saw it too and began frantically honking its horn.

“It was honking … it could see the truck was there. But that truck wasn’t gonna move,” Leahy said.

At the same time, three people in a furniture moving truck “jumped out” and were not hurt, and the director hustled commuters and people away from the platform.

“He made sure nobody was near there,” Leahy said. “They all ran.”

The train’s engine was at its rear, so a train car was the first to smash into the truck, flipping it on its side and causing it to burst into flames.

“It took down some of the railroad signal gates and this thing was fully involved in fire,” Leahy said of the truck.

“It exploded — even damaging a few cars in the commuter lot.”

The back end of the director’s pickup was melted but no motorists were injured.

Multiple fire department rigs went to the scene including at least four ambulances.

As the paramedics rushed to the woman, they contacted a doctor and she was pronounced dead on the scene, Leahy said. The four other people on the train who were injured were taken to local hospitals.

Additionally, the crash caused 50 gallons of diesel fuel to leak into a creek, prompting the hazmat team, Leahy said. Some of the fuel was thought to have made its way into Hinsdale.

Though crews were still working on the leak, Leahy said it was “pretty much confined” as of Wednesday afternoon.

The truck and the train had to remain as they were until the National Transportation Safety Board could get to the scene, which wouldn’t be until evening probably, said Leahy.

On Sept. 17, 2005, about 8:35 a.m. a Rock Island inbound commuter train derailed going through a 10 mph switch at 69 mph, Thomas-Reile said, adding that two passengers were killed and many others were injured.

A pedestrian, Jessica Ing, was killed during another Metra crash in 2017, also at the Clarendon Hills station.

Ing, 34, of Oak Brook, attempted to catch a train stopped at the station and was struck by an inbound express train when she ran across the tracks after the gates were down, Clarendon Hills police Chief Boyd Farmer said at the time.

The NTSB had taken over the investigation as of Wednesday afternoon and a service alert on Metra’s website said the BNSF Line would be suspended until further notice.

Normally the BNSF Line brings nearly 3,000 commuters downtown on workdays.

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rsobol@chicagotribune.com