(Brazoria County, Texas – July 23, 2011)
The chief officer of the Brazoria County Association for Retarded Citizens died around 3:00 P.M. Saturday afternoon when she drove her car across Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks at a dangerous, unguarded crossing of a private road and the BNSF railroad near Alvin, TX.
Betty Ketchum, whom ARC Board Member John Schneider described as “the lifeblood of the organization”, was killed by a BNSF freight train travelling at 53 mph at the crossing which has neither gates, lights or bells to warn motorists of approaching trains. As the executive director of ARC, Ketchum had helped “tens of thousands of people with intellectual disabilities in her 30 years” with the organization.
In researching the tragedy, local Houston news media found a history of “hand-washing of responsibility” for safety improvements. The crossing leads to a local tourist and consumer site, Froberg’s Farm, which attracts shoppers and sight-seers seven days a week, and hosts numerous field trips for school and other children’s groups. Froberg’s ownership asked BNSF to install electronic crossing protection due to the crossing’s high traffic volume, but the railroad’s answer was to completely close the crossing, isolating the business from its customer access.
Houston television station KPRC-TV, Channel 2 reported that “the railroad refused to install an “arm” (crossing gate) there and told Froberg’s Farm they’d have to do it themselves, costing approximately $50,000, as they (BNSF) considered it private property.” In fact, BNSF in wanting to close the crossing, generously said they would pay for the closure, which would effectively close the business.
“We’re just trying to run a family business here,” attested Albert Froberg, Jr. “We put a sign that says ‘watch for train’, and then we put a speed bump here.” In fact, Froberg’s website cautions customers about watching for trains.
TXDOT officials and county officials both claimed they usually work with the road authority and the railroad to determine where crossing protection should go, and Union Pacific Railroad, when contacted, said the crossing was “not their territory.” Regardless, an unnamed UPRR public information officer said that the railroad “receives federal grant money every year to improve railroad crossings,” and added that “half of all accidents happen at crossings with gates, and that it was up to the driver to make sure the intersection was clear before crossing.”