Rail Safety Group Hopes To Turn Tragedies Into Change

Plain Dealer 

Sunday, November 21, 1999 

by: Angela Townsend-Plain Dealer Reporter

NORTH CANTON - Kelly Waldron's father listened intently while a Cleveland lawyer rattled off strategies on preparing for a wongful-death court case.

Taneeca Klostermeier's mother, wearing a button decorated with her daughter's smiling face, showed people pictures of the permanent memorial for the girl.

Eric Ivie's best friend from high school and Ryan Moore's mother sat at one of the front tables, reminiscing about their dead loved ones.

Until yesterday, these former strangers shared only tragedy: Each had lost a friend or family member in a collision between train and car, usually at road-rail intersections without warning lights or safety gates.

The sad trait they sared brough them, and more than two dozen others like them from Ohio and six other states, together for the first time yesterday. In a small meeting room at the Belden Village Holiday Inn, they gave birth to the National Rail Safety Coalition, a grass-roots group they dedicated to fight for safer railroad crossings nationwide.

Vicky Moore of Stark County and Scott Gauvin of Springfield, Ill., were the catalysts. Moore and her husband, Dennis, have crusaded against unguarded rail crossings since 1995, when they lost their son, Ryan, in a car-train collision that killed two others and seriously injured three, including Ryan's older brother Jason.

"I think it's frustration that brought us all together," Vicky Moore said. "What's driving us is loosing our children and our loved ones at these crossings. We know other people don't understand what it's like until you've been there."

The fledgling organization wants to pressure railroads and governments to do away with unguarded rail crossings and demand more accountability from railroads for collisions and other accidents, founders say. They also want to push for more public education on rail-safety issues and serve as a source of support for others who have recently lost loved ones in car-train collisions.

"I hope there's some day where we don't need to be together anymore," said Scott Gauvin, founder of the Springfield, Ill.- based Coalition for Safer Crossings.

Gauvin and the others hope to draw 500 participants to the National Rail Safety Coalition's first national conference in Washington, D.C., next fall.

Several participants in yesterday's planning meeting belong to other rail-safety groups. The Moores created a lobbying and education foundation called Angels on Track with $5.4 million that a jury ordered Conrail to pay after Ryan's death. Gauvin, 23, formed his advocacy group after his best friend Eric Ivie's death three years ago last week.

Vicky Moore and Gauvin hatched the idea to pull the smaller groups into one national umbrella organization during a three-hour telephone conversation in September, when Gauvin tracked down Moore after seeing her interviewed on CNN.

They commiserated about the frustration of dealing with so many levels of bureaucracy and their impatience toward what they say is the snail's pace of change. They vowed that together they would fight to speed it up and to recruit others to their cause.

Among the allied joining them yesterday were Larry Waldron, who drove with his wife from Virginia to attend the planning session; Debbie Klostermeier of Liberty Center, a Toledo suburb; and Sherry Fox, executive director of RailWatch, a nonprofit railroad-safety organization based in Houston.

"We need to push these issues into the national discussion," said Fox, who cited a study that found that 80 percent of the nation's road-rail crossings are unguarded. "The fact that we're getting together is already an accomplishment," Fox said.

Fourteen people in Ohio were killed in train-car collisions in 1998, down from 63 in 1989, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Over that decade, more than 2,000 train-car collisions occurred in the state, according to PUCO.

Despite the decline in deaths, the fact that people still continue to die is cause for concern, Gauvin said. He pointed to last February's collision of an Amtrak train with a truck in Bourbonnais, Ill., which killed 11 people. Rail safety became a public issue, Gauvin said, but "after a few months the issue died."

"Some state and federal legislation, including on Ohio bill to fund railroad-safety education for schoolchildren from kindergarten through grade 12, is pending and gives hope, coalition members aid.

But it's too late for Vicky Moore, who on Thursday visited her son's grave. Had fate been kinder, it would have been his 21st birthday.

He'd sit back and have this grin on his face," Moore said, imagining Ryan's reaction to this weekend's meeting. "There she goes again."

"There's something making me do this besides myself."


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