Wayne RR Crossings Get Gates

The Beacon Journal

August 8, 1999

by: Sallie Cook

Vicky Moore has a passion for railroad crossing safety.

She studies how to make crossings safer. She has learned how to navigate the complex maze of state and federal agencies that oversee dangerous crossings and demands improvements. She knows that flashing lights and gates will prevent accidents, but that too few crossings have them.

This year, three Wayne County crossings will get gates and lights thanks to Moore and her husband, Dennis, of Canal Fulton, who will give $61,569 to the Wayne commissioners to use as the county's share for the upgrades. Conrail and the Public Utilities Commission will pick up the remaining $157,831.

The Moore's money is the first distribution from Angels on Track Foundation, a nonprofit fund they established with a $5.4 million court settlement from Conrail. Their son, Ryan, 16, was killed in a Conrail-car crash in March, 1995 on Deerfield Avenue.

"We're not going to spend the money for ourselves," said Vicky Moore. "This money represents our son's death and it has to go for what caused our son's death."

The crossings slated for flashing lights and gates are on Geyers Chapel Road in Wayne Township and Eby and Back Orrville roads in Green Township, all former Conrail tracks purchased by Norfolk and Southern Corp. and CSX Corp. last month.

Wayne County Commissioner Cheryl Noah said increased traffic in the industrial park area along Geyers Chapel and Long roads prompted officials to choose the crossing southeast of Wooster for improvements. A fatal accident at the Back Orrville crossing occurred in 1994.

Wayne County Highway Department traffic specialists Nate DeLong, who serves on the railroad commission, said the three crossings presented problems that could result in fatalities.

For those reasons, the Moores have campaigned throughout the state for counties to establish railroad commissions to prioritize crossings that need safety upgrades.

Wayne and Stark counties have commissions; Medina, Summit and Portage do not. Delaware, Carroll, Morrow and Marion counties are working to improve rail safety. Delaware County has applied for funds from the foundation for this year, Vicky Moore said.

Wayne County's commission was established in 1997 after several fatalities and accidents occurred on county highways. The commission identified dangerous crossings ranking them according to the need for upgrades, and took photos of all of the county's 103 crossings.

That information was accepted by the Public Utilities Commission as accurate and up-to-date, said Wayne County projects director Ralph Linsalata. The PUCO ranks crossings according to their need for upgrades.

Moore said counties needed to establish commissions to update the PUCO rankings, which use information that is five to seven years old. The local commissions can share information with the state agency to help determine the rankings, she said.

But Dick Kimmins, spokesman for the PUCO, said the state had done a better job of prioritizing safety upgrades in the last 18 months. Kimmins said the commission had 200 crossings on its list for upgrades, up for 50 or 60.

Every ninety minutes, there is a train accident in the United States, said Moore. She blames the railroads for not taking more interest in rail safety. In Ohio, many people believe that the railroads buy flashing lights and gates. "The railroads only have a voluntary contribution of 10 percent," she said.

The signals cost about $150,000 per crossing, said Moore. Taxpayers foot most of the bill. Only half of the state's crossings have warning signs, she said.

But Moore also blames local officials for not being more vigilant. It is expensive to install flashing lights and gates and most counties complain they don't have the money for upgrades.

Commissioner Noah said the local commission was studying how to remove vegetation from the sides of crossings to improve sight distances. The county is eligible to receive $3,000 per crossing from the state for the work, she said.

The commission also continues to study which crossings should be eligible for lights and gates. "We must do it crossing by crossing," Noah said.


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