Kankakee County, IL – Bourbonnais Tragedy Remembered: 25 Years Ago, Deadly Train Wreck That Claimed 11 Lives, Injuring Over 100

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Bourbonnais, IL – Somber air fills Kankakee County as residents and community leaders pause to remember the day, 25 years ago, when a catastrophic train collision claimed the lives of 11 individuals and left over 100 injured. The City of New Orleans, an Amtrak train, met with tragedy on its route from Chicago to Louisiana, forever changing the lives of many and leaving a permanent imprint on the heart of Bourbonnais, Illinois.

On March 15, 1999, the Amtrak train known as the City of New Orleans was struck by a semi-trailer in Bourbonnais, Illinois, at a grade crossing. The semi-trailer, laden with 22 tons of steel, obstructed the tracks at 9:48 PM, and despite emergency measures, the train, traveling at 79 mph, could not stop in time. The force of the collision caused 14 of the train’s cars to derail, and the calamity resulted in significant damage and untold emotional trauma.

Today, Mayor Paul Schore will address the community at the memorial site, which stands by the intersection of Route 102/Main Street and Route 45, near Olivet Nazarene University. His remarks are set to honor those who lost their lives, acknowledge the survivors, and pay tribute to the resilience of the Bourbonnais community in the aftermath of the disaster.

The legacy of the accident prompted rigorous changes in safety protocols, with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) advocating for improved grade crossing signals, the installation of train event recorders, and better emergency preparedness among train crews. These changes reflect a commitment to prevent such tragedies from reoccurring.

The accident also led to local and federal investigations, which brought to light the factors contributing to the disaster, including issues with the grade crossing signals and the truck driver’s decisions leading up to the crash. This scrutiny culminated in legal and civil actions, significant safety overhauls, and ongoing discourse on transportation safety.

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