Unmarked Crossings Come Under Fire

Staff writer – Port Clinton News Herald

Friday, April 28, 2006

-- Thursday marked Ottawa County's fourth accident this month at unmarked railroad crossings, where drivers either drove into stopped trains or were struck while trying to cross the tracks.

Of the nine people who were involved, three are dead. The others received treatment in hospitals and were released.
All of the accidents occurred at different crossings.

The tragedy, besides the obvious one, is that these accidents could have been prevented, said Vicky L. Moore, trustee of The Angels On Track Foundation, an organization she founded after her son, Ryan, was killed with two other people in 1995 at an unmarked crossing in northeast Ohio.

Eight months after Ryan's death, the state installed gates and lights at the crossing, she said. But eight people had to die over a 20-year period before anything was done.

"To this date, there hasn't been a fatality at that crossing," Moore said. "How many people have to die? There has to be a body count before they do something at dangerous crossings."

Moore blames the railroads for failing to make the crossings safe.

"They're arrogant," Moore said. "They sidestep their responsibility for public safety.

"The fatalities are just a cost of doing business."

Moore was awarded an $8 million settlement from Conrail a few years after  Ryan's death. Every penny was invested in The Angels On Track Foundation, she said, to help ensure that railroads put public safety before profit.

Rudy Husband, spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said the responsibility to install gates and lights rests with the Ohio Rail Development Commission and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

PUCO could not be reached late Thursday afternoon for comment.

However, Stu Nicholson, ORDC spokesman, said the state does all it can to ensure public safety at unmarked crossings. Since 1995, for example, 1,200 gates and lights have been installed to make the intersections safer.

"If there's a history of fatal accidents ... that almost brings (an unmarked crossing) up to the front of the priority list," he said.
To get the ball rolling, Nicholson said government officials at the local level can call the ORDC and request gates and lights at unmarked intersections. It generally takes eight months to a year until the safety precautions are installed, considering the ORDC has to conduct engineering surveys at the crossings.

Gates and lights aren't cheap. The average cost per crossing, Nicholson said, can run upwards of $200,000. That money comes from the Federal Highway Administration.

Nicholson said railroad crews typically install the gates and lights or subcontract the work under the ORDC's supervision.


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