(Minneapolis, Minnesota – September 21, 2013)
Little more than a month after a 9-year-old St. Paul, MN youngster suffered the loss of both feet when he tried to mount a Canadian Pacific freight train passing by his neighborhood on BNSF railroad tracks, and residents of a Twin Cities suburban community complained to members of Congress regarding the hazard of hundreds of rail cars being stored in their city, thus creating a dangerous temptation to the youth of their city, a 10-year-old Minneapolis, MN child has lost part of his foot while playing with his 12-year-old brother near a passing BNSF train in northeast Minneapolis. BNSF Spokesperson Amy McBeth, however, said it appeared that the boy was trying to hop on or off the moving train, and that his foot became caught on the tracks. The BNSF railroad line passes over Fillmore Street at this location.
The victim, whose name had not yet been released by police or hospital authorities, allegedly was running across BNSF tracks at Fillmore Street NE and 13th Avenue NE when he lost part of his left big toe at about 5:45 P.M. late Saturday afternoon. The boy was able to hobble away from the tracks and his brother called for help. He was first taken to North Memorial Medical Center and then transferred to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis for treatment of his injury. He and his brother claimed they were running across the tracks to get home.
The site of Saturday’s accident was the exact spot where Christopher Hanson, then 15, died about a year ago. “Christopher was train hopping,” says his mother. “I didn’t know he was, and he never came home,” Melissa Standal laments. “I wish he were here every day,” Christopher’s mother told Fox 9 News reporter Scott Wasserman. “I miss his smile and his laughter.”
On August 15, nine-year-old Marshawn Farr-Robinson lost both of his feet beneath the wheels of a freight car on a CP train operating on BNSF tracks in north St. Paul, and since that tragic event, public service groups and concerned individuals have rallied their efforts around the young victim, who will require one-on-one, 24-hour a day, seven day a week care for at least the next year. Two members of the national amputee support “Wiggle Your Toes” Foundation, both of them amputees, are offering the organization’s support to Marshawn and his family.
Rob Rieckenberg, a resident of Minneapolis, was the victim of a mugging in the downtown part of the city eight years ago. The mugger left the unconscious victim on railroad tracks, where a train cut off his right leg at the knee. But Rieckenberg became active with “Wiggle Your Toes”, and is reaching out to Marshawn and his mother, Kim Farr, to offer the Foundation’s assistance.
“Just know that there are people that are here for you,” Rieckenberg told Twin Cities Fox Network Channel Nine News. “There are people who have gone through this and you’re not going to have to go through it alone.”
Another Twin Cities amputee advocate, Rick Dunn, commended the young victim for his positive attitude. “I was overcome by his strength right off the bat,” Dunn told Fox Nine News, adding that, although neither of the amputees knows the other, they were uniting in helping Marshawn get the resources he requires as he recovers from his life-changing experience. “Whenever he’s ready, we’d love to get an invitation to meet him,” added Dunn.
Community advocate Jackie Baxter told Fox 9 News’ Trish Van Pilsum that she was organizing a donation drive to help the family later this month. “This is a family that really needs help and is very humble,” noted Baxter, emphasizing that “Now this has happened, it’s really overwhelming because he (Marshawn) does have a lot of needs.”
One organization, however, feels it has all the answers to the problem of rail pedestrians, and Minnesota Operation Lifesaver volunteer Andy Mielke, also spoke to Fox 9 News to both offer tips on preventing such tragedies as well as offering the railroad industry-created, partially funded, and heavily influenced education program’s public information and education message as a solution for prevention of the current problem. Mielke noted that fatal accidents involving trains and pedestrians had risen by 27% nationwide since last October.
What the Minnesota Operation Lifesaver representative failed to mention was that the first such program in the nation was launched in Idaho in 1972, and that the Minnesota program was established ten years later. Railroads, including BNSF and Union Pacific, as well as the individual state programs (like Minnesota) themselves maintain presentation records as to when, where and to how large an audience each and every Operation Lifesaver program is given.
Meanwhile, concerned residents of Lakeview, MN, a southern suburb of the Twin Cities, are still asking for help in getting Progressive Rail, Inc. to remove or otherwise protect several hundred stored rail cars from entry and injury by curious youngsters. Lakeview Police Chief Tom Von Hof admits that, over the past three months, his officers had responded to 13 complaints of children playing on or around rail cars in Progressive’s storage yard, which skirts much of the town. Not only are the cars dangerous, they are also unsightly, some covered with graffiti so offensive that the Sun This Week newspaper could not risk publishing them.
“There is not a thing the city can do,” resident Diane Volz, who has lived in Lakeville for 20 years, complained to Sun This Week Reporter Laura Adelmann. “Their (city government) hands are tied. The railroad has more rights than God.” The Lakeville City Council began their continual campaign of complaint against Progressive in 2009, when Progressive began using the tracks, which it leases from Canadian Pacific, to store the unused rail cars until they are needed.
Lakeville Mayor Matt Little agreed with Volz’s observation, saying that the city has little power in regulating a railroad because they enjoy federal preemption from local laws. State Senator Dave Thompson of Lakeville is most unhappy with the railroad industry’s ability to duck regulation and report only to the fed’s “because it’s people within the community that are bothered and inconvenienced…”
Yet, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel that is not coming from an approaching train. Federal political pressure has resulted in solutions to similar situations in New Castle, IN, Willkes-Barre, PA, and Adams County, CO. According to Adams County Commissioner Eva Henry, Union Pacific Railroad decided to use Thornton, CO for car storage similar to the problem in Lakeville four years ago. “They (UPRR) brought them (the rail cars) in, parked them, and left!” Community complaints of unsafe, unsightly, graffiti-covered rail cars fell upon deaf ears at Union Pacific – until newly-elected U.S. Congressman Jared Polis walked into UP’s Washington, DC office and got the railroad’s attention. Whatever the concerned Congressman said got the mission accomplished: within two weeks, the rail cars were gone! Henry suggests a similar approach by Lakeville. “Start working on the political part of it,” she advised.
So Minnesota’s federal politicos have been brought into action. U.S. Congressman John Kline and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar have joined forces to address a joint letter to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board “requesting your assistance in facilitating a resolution to this ongoing impasse.” Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Al Franken has also raised his concern over the issue.