Railroad Task Force Gets On Track

Delaware Weekly


 by: Robin Mayes

The number of deaths from car and train crashes in the state is decreasing and the efforts of a local group may help to lower those statistics even more.

After coming aware of funds available for railroad crossing upgrades, Oxford Township trustee Charles Sheets initiated the formation of a county-wide railroad safety task force.

A Stark County couple is offering $5.3 million to install warning devices at railroad crossings. The money is the settlement Dennis and Vicki Moore received after the vehicle in which their two sons and four other young boys were riding was hit by a train at an unmarked crossing. Three of the boys were killed, including one of the Moores' sons. Their other son was seriously injured in the crash at the site, which had a previous history of tragic accidents, according to Sheets.

He said the Moores initially offered the money they were awarded for upgrades to railroad crossings in Stark and Wayne counties, but have now opened the funding up to other counties willing to form task forces to identify problem crossings and that are dedicated to educating the public about railroad crossing safety. Portions of the Moores money can be used in conjunction with state and federal dollars to finance the installation of warning system at targeted crossings.

Delaware County deputy engineer Clyde Seidle, who is spearhearding the local task force, said the group is currently compiling an inventory of the county's 50 or more crossings and gathering data from the various rail companies pertaining to each intersection.

So far, the task force, which is still forming, includes members from the Delaware County Sheriff's Office, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, township trustees and transportation directors from local schools.

According to statistics provided by Dick Kimmins, media director for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, 20 car and train crashes claimed the lives of 27 people last year. Although higher than the 1996 statistic of 13 fatalities, the number was down significantly from eight years ago, when 62 people died in 56 railroad crossing accidents.

As of Aug. 5, seven deaths had occurred at Ohio public crossings so far this year, according to Kimmins. He said although the number represents an "all time low," it is still too high.

"Our goal is zero," he said.

Kimmins pointed out that the statistics keep by his office refer only to "public thoroughfare crossings."

"That does not include the thousands of private crossings," he said.

The last fatal car and train crash in Delaware County was in 1995 at a crossing on Berlin Station Road.

Ironically, Kimmins said, a significant number of the fatal accidents occur at crossings that are already equipped with warning signals. That is why education is important, he said. Gates and lights have been installed at 40 percent of the public crossings in the state.

The cost to place signaling devices at railroad crossings is between $140,000 and $180,000. Kimmins said the warning system is custom-designed for each intersection, taking various factors into consideration.

Sheets is not content to have only a Delaware County task force in place. He also plans to encourage Morrow and Marion county officials to follow suit.

Since contacting the Moores, Sheets aid the two families have become friends. The only son of Sheets and his wife, Betty, died in 1991. Betty said the two couples have drawn close because of their shared tragedy and their common desire to spare other families the tremendous grief of losing a child to death, Sheets said.

Vicky Moore will address the Delaware County Railroad Safety Task Force at its meeting scheduled for Wednesday.


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