Ohio Rail Crashes Drop; Activists Aren't Satisfied

The Repository

September 23, 2000

By: G. Patrick Kelley, Repository West Bureau

Rail crossing crashes are at a 22-year low in Ohio, but the state still ranks in the national top six in both fatalities and number of accidents. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio says the 127 crashes in 1999 killed 19 and injured 45 people. "In the last five years, we have reduced crashes, fatalities and injuries by 40 percent," said PUCO Chairman Alan Schriber. "In the last 10 years, Ohio has gone from having the second-highest number of crashes and fatalities in the country to being ranked sixth in the nation for accidents and fifth for fatalities. "However, no one believes our work to reduce grade-crossing crashes is done," Schriber said.

Local crossing-safety activist Vicky Moore would be the first to agree with him. Moore said she's glad the statistics show declining numbers, but Ohio's record still isn't very good. "I don't think that's anything to brag about, she said. "People are still dying at dangerous rail crossings in the state of Ohio." 

Moore and her husband, Dennis, lost their son, Ryan, in a March 1995 train-car accident on Deerfield Avenue NW In Lawrence Township. Two other teen-agers also died when a train struck their car. The Moores won a judgment against the railroad and are using the money to improve Ohio's rail crossings and make the public aware of rail-crossing safety through their Angels on Track Foundation. 

The state's statistics can be misleading, she said, especially in the way they're presented. In Its "Ohio Grade Crossing Statistics Report for 1999," PUCO said 43 percent of all fatal crashes in 1999 occurred at crossings that had active warning devices (gates or lights). That's putting a positive spin on the fact that 57 percent of the fatalities occurred at crossings that didn't have active warnings, she said. "They chose to say it the other way," and ignored traffic counts, which are probably higher at crossings with active warnings, she said. "Are they saying warning devices don't save lives?" 

Even the state's figures don't always agree with each other. In addition to citing the 43-percent figure for fatalities, a press release also said 38 percent of fatal crashes occurred at crossings that had active warning devices. Commission spokesmen did not return a telephone call Friday afternoon. Moore said Angels on Track plans to keep its own statistics. "We're not using the state's information anymore," she said. "We're developing our own database." Schriber said PUCO is "focusing on improving Ohio's grade crossings. However, we cannot urge people enough to heed the warnings at the crossings." 

There are 6,300 rail crossings in Ohio, Moore said. Half of them have crossbuck warnings, not active signals. "Crossbucks signs only lower a driver's expectation of a train, she said. PUCO seems to point at driver error as the cause of accidents. "Are they prepared to say every crash was caused by driver error?"


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