Video showing damage to a Metra passenger train and a gravel truck after a collision at Northwest Highway and Mount Prospect Road.
Imagine you don’t take the train very often, and you and your husband were looking forward to a fun trip for your three-year-old daughter — including a lunch meeting with family from out-of-town touring the City of Chicago. You’re not even half way to your destination, and your Metra passenger train hits a gravel truck driven by a driver that apparently disregarded the railroad gates. The Cardinal was fortunate to find someone who witnessed the crash as a passenger, and was willing to explain in detail the entire experience. Juliet Fitzgerald Good was with her husband and three-year-old daughter in the third car — seated on the right (or south side) of the passenger car as the train traveled an estimated 50 mph toward Chicago. Here is an interview with Chicago-area resident Juliet Fitzgerald Good, who boarded the Chicago-bound train at the Palatine Metra station.
The Cardinal: Do you commute every day, or was this an occasional train trip?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: I only take the train a few times a year now. My husband and I were meeting out-of-towners for lunch, and decided to make it fun for our 3-year-old daughter by taking the train.
The Cardinal: At what train station did you board, and what time?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: Palatine, 8:25 a.m., I think.
The Cardinal: What car did you board if the #1 car is the car closest to Chicago?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: We were on the third car.
The Cardinal: Were there a lot of people in your car?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: Yes, all the seats had at least one passenger — top and bottom. We got the last two seats and flipped one seat so we were facing each other. (Important to me because I now know if my daughter wasn’t facing the rear of the train she would have been thrown to the ground. Note from The Cardinal to clarify for readers … When Juliet says “facing the rear” of the train for her daughter, the three-year-old is facing Palatine with her back to the front car, while the train is headed for Chicago with the locomotive pushing all of the train cars from behind. The inertia force from the sudden stop pushed her daughter into the back of her own seat — a front-facing seat would have sent her flying forward toward Chicago and to the floor or the other seat as the train suddenly stopped).
The Cardinal: So what was the first indication there was a problem?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: The crash itself … very loud metal on metal impact. It popped us up off the seats, while we watched debris and truck parts flying by the windows.
The Cardinal: Did you stay standing or sit back down?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: We were pushed back down by the gravity of it … didn’t really have a choice, but to sit down. Then the gas tank exploded under the second car — in front of us — at which point we were on our way down to duck and cover on the floor, but then the train finally came to a full stop and everything went dark and quiet.
The Cardinal: Did you see a flash or feel any heat?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: We felt heat, but assumed at the time it was the air conditioning and fans that went off when the train power failed. We saw only black smoke.
The Cardinal: Did your daughter cry?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: She did get very upset, but not really bawling … just squeezing me and firing questions like “what’s happening!” and “what’s that noise!” She was seated, facing Palatine, while everyone else was facing Chicago.
The Cardinal: How about the air quality … did you ever smell anything while you were inside, or feel like you were breathing smoke inside or when you got out?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: Absolutely. I was smelling the char for hours after. It was awful. The first conductor that came through, came from the back and was unaware of the fire. He told us to stay put, which was really hard to believe. He immediately turned around after opening the door, and told us to get out.
The Cardinal: With talk about retaliation after bin Laden’s death, did terrorism cross your mind at any point, and if yes, when?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: Yes. Some other passengers walked from the back of the train to get off through our car. Several were sobbing and scared to death, in a way that seemed way out of proportion to even this terrible wreck. That’s when I realized they were afraid this was only the beginning. Then out in the grass in the crowds milling about, I heard people referring to fears of terrorism and recent news that the railways were indeed a possible target. Also, initial reports were that the truck on the rail had no driver, which sparked suspicion.
The Cardinal: What did it smell like? … burning wood, burning electric, gasoline?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: Gasoline and burning electric — strong metallic quality to it.
The Cardinal: Did you smell gasoline when you were inside the train car?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: Yes.
The Cardinal: Did you know it was a truck when the crash was happening?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: The moment of impact was too surreal for me to put it together, and I couldn’t identify the debris I was seeing, but the people just upstairs from me saw the truck wheels go by and immediately reported it had to have been a ‘semi’ … wasn’t two minutes before we knew it was a dump truck.
The Cardinal: Did your passenger car rock side by side in addition to the up down motion you described?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: Yes, we felt movement in every direction … felt like it could have gone over the side at any time.
The Cardinal: Can you describe your exit … Did you see anyone in your car exit from a window? Did you exit out the northwest highway side? and did you just want to get the hell away or were you curious to look to see what happened? When you saw the damage was it worse or not as bad as you expected?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: The car exit [doors] functioned normally so we headed for the door. We waited out the panic a little, knowing it was no use to run and put our daughter in further danger. People were relatively calm after the initial scatter, everyone helped one another at that point. Several of the larger men and women stayed at the car door on the ground to help the rest of us down, we were nearly five feet from the sloping rock on the northwest side — facing NW highway. People were tripping over themselves to help me with my daughter. I was very focused on getting my daughter far away from what I fully expected to be a gory scene, and wanted to get far away from the smoke — a little afraid of further fire. I didn’t look back at all until we were across Northwest Highway and sheltered from the road and train. I can’t say I was shocked at what I saw.
When we saw the windows were blown out of the one car and fire trucks on site, there was nothing we could do to help and we started walking. Then I saw the gas tank and wheels on the tracks, so we headed north on Mount Prospect road a little more. I was afraid my daughter would see remains and was freaked out by the stand-alone gas tank. We were all fine enough and wanted to get the hell out of there.
The Cardinal: Did you see the conductor using a fire extinguisher for the fire that was still burning under the second car?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: No. I think we stayed in our car for almost 5 minutes so we probably missed it. We could see people exiting the cars ahead in all directions — dropping their things along the other tracks, even standing and sitting on the tracks. They were probably watching, but we didn’t want to go out until we knew there was a path that did not involve the train tracks.
The Cardinal: Who was the first person you called on the phone, when you got out? Did you cancel lunch and go home? And how did you get to your modified destination?
We called friends from Lake Zurich … we knew one of them would be home with their daughter and might be able to help us get back to our car in Palatine. I called my brother as well, but he didn’t answer. Another friend from Palatine picked us up at Central Road and Route 12, and brought us back to our car. We spoke with many others from the train at the Walgreens there on Route 12. We then drove downtown from Palatine.
We were meeting a family member visiting from downstate with a friend of hers from Florida. They wanted to have lunch with my daughter. After seeing the wreck on the news, they desperately wanted to see us and know that we were ok, so we still met with them.
The Cardinal: Do you want to say the name of the restaurant where you ate lunch?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: House of Blues … they are tourists after all … And I don’t mind saying they served me a very nice Bloody Mary!
The Cardinal: Any aches and pains this morning?
Juliet Fitzgerald Good: We are a little sore, but no worse for the wear. Back, shoulders, neck kind of stuff. Our daughter is perfect and rather annoyed we didn’t take the train home, so it will all be fine.
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