November 6, 2012

CHICAGO (Nov. 5)—BNSF Railway passenger conductor Anthony Davis sensed trouble was brewing as he worked his regular daily run from Aurora to Chicago.

Metra train No. 1268 had left Aurora on time at 2:20 p.m. on October 22, bound for Chicago Union Station. Davis, an assistant conductor and former Chicago Transit Authority bus operator who had joined BNSF only 15 months earlier, was busy punching tickets and selling fares to passengers who had boarded at the many stations without a ticket agent.

But as the train slowed for its scheduled 3:24 p.m. stop at Western Avenue in Chicago, the behavior of one passenger caught Davis’s attention.

“When I went into the vestibule there was a guy standing there,” Davis said. “He asked me if Western Avenue was the next stop. I told him yes, and it was about that time that he started to stare at my shirt pocket.

“That’s where I was keeping the cash I collected.” Davis explained. “I move it around. Sometimes I keep it in the side pocket of my jacket, sometimes in my pants pocket. This time it was in my shirt pocket.”

As the train braked to a stop the man’s interest in Davis’s pocket intensified.

“I was halfway down the steps by the door and he was staring down into my pocket,” Davis said.

When the train stopped and Davis stepped off to check for waiting passengers, the man made his move.

“He put his hand on me.” Davis said. “He said, ‘I have a knife. Don’t do anything stupid.’”

Forewarned by the passenger’s suspicious behavior, Davis, was ready. As soon as the passenger touched him, Davis grabbed his arm.

“We start going around in a circle,” he said. “I’m trying to put him on the ground and he’s trying to put me on the ground. I marched him up into the vestibule.”

The tussle on the platform was observed from several cars away by Conductor Joe Dalberti, who immediately contacted Davis by radio, asking “Everything O.K?”

Davis didn’t answer.

“I was busy,” he said. “We fell to the floor and he tried to reach inside my shirt pocket, and he started punching me in the body, so I started punching him in the head. Now Joe comes running up and pulls the guy off me, and both of us keep hanging onto him and now we’re back on the platform.”

The relocation of the tussle to the platform caught the attention of two more BNSF employees working in the adjacent Western Avenue Yard, a switchman and a welder. Both rushed over and held the attacker while police were called. Metra, BNSF and Chicago police responded to the incident, and the offender was taken into custody by Chicago police. Metra spokeswoman Meg Reilly said Kyle Rankin, 28, of suburban Mundelein, was charged with aggravated robbery and aggravated battery.

Reilly said that although no weapon ever was found, “Both charges were elevated to ‘aggravated’ status because the victim was a transit employee on duty.

“Under Illinois law any assault on an employee of a public transit system on transit property is automatically a felony,” she said.

When recent changes were made to the criminal code the UTU was a strong proponent of the “escalator” clause that provides harsh penalties for attacks on public transit employees

Reilly said Rankin had a previous Metra arrest for fare evasion.

“It really is an example of people looking out for one another,” said BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth. “It’s an example of people seeing a need and responding.”

UTU Illinois Legislative Director Robert W. Guy said the action on the Western Avenue platform also represented railroaders of different crafts looking out for one another.

“It’s always a good idea to keep your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings and your fellow employees when you’re on the job,” he said. “It’s not just about crime. It’s about safety. Railroad employment is inherently dangerous because we have to work next to powerful, moving machines while walking on uneven ground in all kinds of weather. Watch out for yourself and keep an eye on your fellow employees.”

Guy said he made it a point to contact Davis and acknowledge his skillful handling of the unexpected situation in which he found himself.

“When I spoke to Brother Davis I commended him on his obvious situational awareness and professionalism and expressed gratitude for those who bravely offered assistance,” Guy said. “This is a lesson we all can learn from, regardless of whether we’re working in passenger or freight operations. As railroad workers we’re on the same team and share the same goal of putting in a hard day’s work and going home safely to our family at the end of the day.”

Davis, who described himself as 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighing 162 pounds, said he had no martial-arts training or military experience and “never had any trouble before.” He described Rankin as “stocky.” His advice to other passenger-train crew members:

“Be aware of your surroundings. He looked like was going to attack me. He kept looking at my shirt pocket.”