The safety and maintenance of train gates is an issue all communities with rail lines crossing through their borders must deal with. For many, the image of train gate lights flashing causes feelings of impatience, but, in most cases, the wait for a train only lasts a few minutes or so. However, train gates can malfunction, which can cause significant traffic congestion and train delays. Recently, the City of Des Plaines engineering department decided to analyze train gate malfunction and delayed train information gathered from January 1st- June 30th of 2009 at the city’s thirty-two at-grade train crossings. In doing so, the department wanted to determine if there is a problem with the city’s rail system that requires further investigation.
The source of the information used in this analysis came from calls made to the city’s police department from drivers who were stuck at a malfunctioning gate or were blocked by a delayed train. Once the engineering department had a chance to review the numbers, the analysis was broken down into four categories per gate: the total number of gate malfunctions, total time of the malfunctions, number of trains delayed due to a gate malfunction, and the total time the trains were delayed. Initially, the analysis only involved an examination of the raw numbers provided and was displayed primarily in a series of graphs and tables. However, the results were lacking a comprehensive way to analyze the problem city-wide. To help highlight problem gates found in the data, the engineering department asked the city’s GIS department to assist with the project.
By adding a spatial component to the analysis, gates with more malfunctions or longer train delays could be visually identified across the city. This helped to determine where problem areas are located or which rail lines running through the city have the most gate-related problems. While the numeric data provided by the police department showed that there are problems with some of the city’s gates, it did not show how the data for each gate is relevant compared to other gates in the city. Providing a spatial snapshot of the gate data gave the engineers a tool to see that not only are there a significant number of gate malfunctions and train delays overall, but that the problem extends to almost every gate in the city.
Being able to compare the data visually at a city-wide scale allowed the engineering department to see the potential impact that train gate malfunctions have on several critical traffic-related issues, such as emergency response vehicle delays and daily traffic pattern congestion. Working with both the numeric data and the maps provided by the GIS department, the city engineers can more efficiently develop possible solutions to mitigate the current problems and attempt to address the question of why certain gates are malfunctioning more than others to help reduce future incidents.