(Guthrie County, Iowa – October 10, 2013)
In the aftermath of a serious injury accident at the Talon Avenue crossing of Iowa Interstate railroad tracks, strange and sudden changes and corrections have suddenly been made to the crossing’s inventory information in the Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Safety Analysis’ Crossing Inventory Information report. Information contained therein is reported by the railroad incurring the accident or change in crossing status.
On Tuesday evening, a little before 7:00 P.M., the 74-year-old driver of an 18-wheeler was returning southbound on Talon Avenue near Menlo, IA from delivering a load of corn to a nearby ethanol plant and failed to see the eastbound IIRR freight train approaching at what was believed to be about 40 mph. Regardless, with no flashing lights, gates or bells to warn the trucker of the train, Ira Norman Stine of Adel, IA was in an indefensible position and his rig was struck by the train directly between the tractor cab and the trailer, injuring him so severely that he had to be flown by helicopter to Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, IA for treatment.
Ironically, on the FRA’s standard crossing information form available on line Wednesday, the information claimed the crossing accommodated two trains daily at a top speed of 10 mph. But a check of the same FRA web site information on Thursday found slight adjustments had been made to the data in the preceding 24 hours, and now it claimed four trains pass there daily at a top allowable speed of 40 mph.
But the information validity gap grew even wider as WOI-TV, Channel 5, the ABC affiliate in Des Moines, sent reporter Sabrina Ahmed to the site of the accident to investigate matters. Demonstrating the difficulty of drivers being able to see a train approaching in broad daylight, let alone dusk or dark night as was the case at the time of the accident, the reporter observed “From way back here, you can hardly even tell there’s a railroad crossing 20 yards behind me; but if you move a little closer, you can see there’s just a sign – no lights, no arms, no warning that a train is coming.”
Iowa State Patrol Trooper Dana Tews calls the crossing one of the most dangerous in the area, and notes that “After the last one (accident), they put up a security light (an elevated floodlight), but that doesn’t do much for it (the crossing) as it still doesn’t tell you when the train is coming.” By the way, trooper, what LAST one? The FRA’s web site, which is supposed to give accident history on all railroad crossings, indicates that an accident has never occurred there, even as far back as when it was the property of the now-defunct Rock Island Railroad, which was dismantled and sold in pieces after its 1981 liqidation. Railroads are required to notify the FRA within 30 days of any crossing accident, regardless of damage or casualties.
Menlo resident Doug Powell knows there was an earlier accident – in 2011 – because it injured a relative (by marriage) of his son-in-law. “She was never quite right after that,” he recalled of the victim. “I’ve said it for years: they need lights out here, or arms (crossing gates).”
Reporter Ahmed concluded her report by saying “We reached out to the railroad company (or a response to the accident), but we didn’t receive a response.”