Activist, Bureaucracy At Cross-Purposes

Akron Beacon Journal 


To Vicky Moore, the solution seems simple enough. It's basic supply and demand.

Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad wants a flashing signal and gate at a railroad crossing near its central terminal in Brewster.

Eva Signal Corporation, an Omaha, Nebraska, company that makes signals, has state-of-the-art signal equipment it wants to donate.

And the Angels on Track Foundation, which Moore and her husband, Dennis, established with a $5.4 million court settlement after their son was killed in a train-car collision in Wayne County in 1995, is ready to match the supply with the demand.

But after months of negotiation, there's still no agreement to install the signal.

"I feel a lot of frustration and anger," said Vicky Moore, of Lawrence Township. "It's pain, is what it is. I understand now why my son died."

She said people often tell her they care and share her frustration, but she wishes they'd put that concern into action.

Ohio Rail Development Commission Executive Director Thomas O'Leary admitted that he doesn't completely understand the complications himself. But the two state agencies responsible for railroads in Ohio -- the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and O'Leary's ORDC -- have to answer to a half-dozen federal agencies, including the Federal Highway Administration, which regulate traffic signs and signals.

The EVA system differs from conventional railroad crossing signals in Ohio in that it uses a magnetic sensing mechanism to tell if a train is coming and high-powered strobe lights to warn oncoming motorists of the train.

EVA President and CEO, Joesph Pace said the sytem is safer, more reliable and cheaper than conventional systems.

Even if they're not, Vicky Moore argues, an EVA Signal is better than no signal at all. Plus, she points out, EVA Signals are about half the cost of conventional signals - $60,000 compared to an average of $120,000. She figures her group could put signals at twice as many crossings.

So why aren't they at every crossing? Pace of EVA blames the major railroads and government agencies.

"They're satisfied with technology that was patented 123 years ago," he said. "According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are 60,000 signals in the country and they fail about 6,000 a month. That's a failure every 10 months. That's unacceptable."

O'Leary insists that he's doing everything he can to get the rail crossing signal installed. He also called the Moore's task daunting.

"For lay people like the Moores who are thrust by tragedy into government bureaucracies, this is a very thick briar to cut through. This is one of the most snarled bureaucratic briars in existence," O'Leary said. "If you want to look at U.S. history, one of the first major bureaucracies in the country was in the railroad industry."

The red tape over the EVA system isn't the Angels on Track Foundation's first run-in with bureaucracy. Last year, the Moores questioned why gates and lights at Tallmadge Circle -- where no trains have crossed in more than 15 years -- remained in perfect working order while more than 3,000 crossings throughout Ohio were without any kind of active warning signal.

Lately, the Moores have been working with local governments in Stark, Wayne, Delaware and Carroll counties to establish railroad safety task forces. The task foces are trying to identify dangerous crossings.

The Angels on Track Foundation has pledged to provide matching funds for the state rail safety programs if the counties agree to do more to promote safety at crossings.

But the process is long and complicated, and involves an alphabet soup of state and federal agencies. Money for the crossings comes from the FHA, which distributes it to the ORDC. But it's PUCO that decides which crossings get upgraded, based on a ranking of crossings that takes into account, among other factors, the number of fatal accidents at each crossing.

That means that often, someone must die at a crossing before it's upgraded.

But Pace said that if railroad bureaucracy is the immovable object, Vicky Moore is the irresistible force.

"I've never met a more dedicated, committed lady in the world than Vicky Moore," he said. "If she wants to get something done, she doesn't care if she has to go around you, through you or over you."

The Moores created the foundation with the $5.4 million judgement they received from Conrail in March, after the Ohio Supreme Court uphead a ruling that the railroad was partly responsible for the death of the Moores' 16-year old son, Ryan.

Ryan and two other Northwest High School teens -- Alyson Ley, 16, of Clinton, and Joshua White, 17, of Canal Fulton -- also died in the 1995 crash. Ryan's brother, Jason, was driving.

That crossing, at Deerfield Avenue on the Stark-Wayne county border, had no warning lights, stop signs or gates. Since then, the Moores have made it their goal to put lights and gates at every train crossing in Stark and Wayne Counties -- and eventually statewide.

They admit it's an arduous task, but the Moores said they intend to continue working county by county, crossing by crossing.

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