Risky Rail Crossing Gets Safety Upgrade
5 Perished at site near Edon on July 1, 2001

Toledo Blade

August 16, 2002

EDON, Ohio - Just a year after a westbound train slammed into a car, killing four family members and an another passenger at a rural Williams County crossing, gates and warning lights are in place.

The work, which began this week, fulfills a pledge by safety activists to help protect other motorists from a similar fate.

Terry Petre, who on July 1, 2001, lost his wife, Wanda, 37, her daughters, Amber, 14, and Chelsea, 11, her nephew, Bradley Krontz, 12, and Chelsea Green, 10, said the installation is too late to help his family.

But he said he is relieved that the crossing has finally received attention.

"If it saves even one life, it will be worth it," he said yesterday from his home in Angola, Ind.

Mrs. Petre, a homemaker and church youth group leader, and her passengers were killed instantly when their car collided with a Norfolk Southern train.

Neighbors in the area have said the crossing is dangerous because it crosses the road at a sharp angle, making it hard to see fast-moving trains. After the accident, members of a safety activist group, Angels on Track Foundation, along with the Ohio Rail Development Commission, pledged to seek improvements at the crossing.

Vicky Moore, head of the grass-roots foundation in Canal Fulton, Ohio, said the rate of progress on protecting unmarked rail crossings is far too slow and depends upon a formula that involves a set number of fatal accidents before a crossing is considered for safety improvements.

"It’s always too little, too late," said Mrs. Moore, whose son, Ryan, 16, was the eighth person to die within four years at a rural crossing before it received an upgrade. "Any crossing that does not have gates is a dangerous crossing."

Mrs. Moore said Ohio has about 2,700 crossings marked with cross-buck signs and ranks fourth in the nation in the number of vehicle-train fatalities.
The deadly Norfolk Southern crossing along Williams County Road I was the scene of another accident involving five victims, said Mrs. Moore. In an accident 47 years ago, she said, a mother and her four children were killed.

County Road I is one of several along the busy rail corridor where safety equipment is being installed.

Funds for crossing upgrades come from the state, but the issue should be a concern for all government and railroad officials, Mrs. Moore said.
Susan Kirkland, manager of safety programs for the Ohio Rail Development Commission, said the County Road I project is part of a concentrated effort to install safety gates and lights along every Norfolk Southern crossing through Fulton and Williams counties.

While studying the County Road I project after last year’s accident, the state commission decided to take advantage of the work crews’ presence and complete the entire stretch, she said.

Every public crossing on east-west rail corridors will be protected by gates and lights within the next several months, she said. Exceptions will be found at private crossings and along a stretch of tracks operated by a short-line railroad that shuttles rail cars between businesses and major rail lines.

Funds for improvements comes from the federal government. Ohio’s annual budget for railroad crossing safety improvements is $15 million.
Each upgrade costs approximately $160,000, she said.

"We get $15 million a year and we’re spending all of it," Ms. Kirkland said.

Tom Stroup, Williams County commissioner, said the county wrote letters of support seeking the improvements. But he attributed the improvement to grass-roots organizations that demanded state action.

"They did a lot," Mr. Stroup said. "We have a lot of unguarded crossings in the county and any time they improve public safety, we’re extremely happy about it."

A spokesman for Norfolk Southern was traveling and unable to comment on specifics involving the Williams County projects.

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