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.