Railroad Victim Groups Unite, Stark Family Others Seek Safer Crossings


November 21, 1999

By: Lori Monsewicz and Dave Sereno-Repository staff writers

JACKSON TWP. - The families came from as far away as Kansas, Virginia, and New York.

They share one thing: The tragedy of a deadly car-train crash.

Although many have turned their experience into a personal crusade for rail safety, they hope to bolster their message by working together.

On Saturday, the 30 people gathered at the Holiday Inn created the National Coalition for Rail Safety, with an eye toward making the roads safer for all U.S. drivers.

"We are organizing because (railroad safety) is a national problem, and we don't feel that anyone is paying attention to the fact that people are being killed every 90 minutes at railroad crossings," said Vicky Moore of Canal Fulton.

Mrs. Moore has immersed herself in the rail industry since her son was killed in a 1995 car-train collision.

She and her husband, Dennis, formed Angels on Track, which is devoted to getting flashing lights and gates installed at dangerous crossings throughout Ohio.

A $5.4 million jury award allows them to assist counties that need money for improvements.

Too often these crashes are blamed solely on the vehicle drivers, Mrs. Moore said.

"We don't call these accidents. These are collisions that could be prevented had there been active warning devices at these crossings," she said.

The Moores soon discovered others leading safety crusades across the country. They came up with the idea of unifying.

Some of those gathered Saturday had formed their own organizations to crusade for getting flashing lights and gates at railroad crossings where their own family members have died. Others were parents just seeking emotional support.

The tables where participants sat were topped with tissue boxes.

"We know it was going to be really emotional, and we're here to support each other," Mrs. Moore said.

But sadness wasn't the only emotion.

Many involved are frustrated with the rail industry and the officials who govern it.

Not enough is being done to improve safety, they say.

"You know that you're not in this alone, but at the same time, it makes us angry because (railroad safety) is not a priority until someone is killed, " Mrs. Moore said.

Tom O'Leary, exectuve directory of the Ohio Rail Development commission, disputes the motion that the state is slow to make improvements and shuns technological advancements.

In recent years, the time it takes to get safety lights and gates installed has been cut in half, he said.

Any new safety device must get federal approval, an extremely slow process, he said.

The commission has set aside $5 million, one-third of its budget, for improvement projects identified by local task forces.

"We're not stick-in-the-mud lackeys who sit in the lap of railroads and just do what they tell us," O'Leary said.

The Moores' 16-year-old son, Ryan, was one of three teens killed when a train struck the car Ryan's older brother was driving at Deerfield Avenue NW in Lawrence Township.

Also killed in the 1995 crash were Joshua White, 17, and Alyson Ley, 16, of Clinton.

White's family joined the Moores to sue rail operator Conrail, saying the crash could have been prevented if flashing lights and gates had been installed at the bottom of a steep hill where Conrail's tracks cross Deerfield.

The Moores used their share of the $7 million jury award to form their nonprofit foundation.

A number of counties across Ohio have begun working with Angels on Track to get matching funds for safety improvements.

To earn grant money, a county first must form a rail taskforce. The group then must study and prioritize crossings it wants to improve.

Wayne County, one of the first to work with Angels, is set to receive $62,000 soon. Delaware County recently applied for $40,000.

In the meantime, Mrs. Moore hopes Saturday's inaugural conference can lead to a larger gathering in 2000.


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