(Clark County, Wisconsin – June 18, 2013)
The horror of witnessing a fatal train/car accident was magnified many times over about 9:15 A.M. Tuesday morning in Clark County, WI, just south of the community of Unity, WI, when the death of an 81-year-old father, whose vehicle was struck and destroyed by a Canadian National freight train at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of Century Road and CN railroad tracks, was eye witnessed by the victim’s daughter, who was following him in another vehicle, and whose name was not provided by investigators.
Charles S. Podbelsek of Spencer, WI was driving eastbound on Century Road in his 1994 Dodge Grand Caravan when he collided with the southbound CN freight train, one of a daily average of 25 trains of two railroads (CN and Union Pacific) which cross there at a maximum allowable speed of 60 mph. The victim’s van was thrown south of the crossing, overturned onto its roof, and totally destroyed as the force of the crash threw Podbelsek from his wrecked vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The accident was not the first, but the fourth at the crossing which has no active warning devices such as lights or gates, but instead is marked only by standard, passive railroad cross-buck and highway “yield” signs. The CN railroad tracks parallel Wisconsin Highway 13 (Basswood Avenue), separated only by a few feet, for a considerable distance in that part of Clark County, and reports that the crossing also had highway stop signs were incorrect, as the stop sign governing the direction in which the victim was traveling is for Highway 13 and is located several feet beyond the railroad tracks. There is a stop sign for the crossing in the westbound direction. The most recent previous accident occurred little more than a year ago when a non-injury car/train collision occurred on April 22, 2012.
Heavy underbrush and trees block sight distance triangles on both eastbound quadrants of the crossing, making oncoming trains difficult to see when a motorist approaches the crossing in the direction the victim did.
As previously mentioned, this incident happened at a dangerous, unguarded crossing. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both Union Pacific, Canadian National, and Operation Lifesaver know lights and gates are the most effective type of protection at railroad crossings. Studies that have been conducted over fifty years ago confirm that lights can gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.
Responding to the tragedy were Clark County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jim Backus, troopers of the Wisconsin State Patrol, and Spencer, WI fire and emergency response personnel.
Chief Deputy Backus told the Wausau Daily Herald that, because of the town of Unity having eight railroad crossings within or near its city limits, he believed that “it would be too expensive to install signals and guard arms at each one.”