(Ogden, Iowa – April 12, 2013)
A Boone-area father and his 16-year-old son were both seriously injured Friday morning just after 8:00 A.M. when a trip to school turned into trips to two different Iowa hospitals as their southbound car was struck on the driver’s side by a westbound Union Pacific freight train consisting of two locomotives hauling 91 freight cars at the dangerous, unguarded crossing of UPRR and “G” Avenue just outside of Ogden, IA.
Boone County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Rick Lampe said that the son, Colton Thrane, was taken to Boone County Hospital in Boone, IA by Boone County Ambulance Service, while the more seriously injured father, Jeffrey Thrane, 46,was airlifted by Mercy One helicopter to Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, IA. Mick Bailey of the Ogden Police Dept. said that after the train came to a stop, Colton crawled under the stationary rail cars “and called 911 on a truck driver’s phone.”
Boone County Sheriff’s Officer Dan Ruter said the Jaws of Life had to be employed in order to extricate the driver from the car’s wreckage.
Colton, was able to answer questions on the accident, saying his father just failed to see the oncoming train, one of 56 trains that traverse the “G” Avenue double-tracked crossing daily at speeds as high as 70 mph. Yet, with that volume and speed of trains, the crossing is equipped only with standard, passive railroad crossbuck and highway “yield” signs, merely indicating the presence of railroad tracks whether occupied by a train or not, and lacks completely any active warning devices such as flashing lights, bells and crossing gates. Railroad authorities have long claimed such protection could eliminate more than 90% of accidents such as occurred Friday morning.
Police acknowledged that the victims neither saw the train in time to stop nor were they attempting to beat the train. “They didn’t see it until it was too late,” reported Chief Deputy Lampe. “In fact they tried to slow down and stop, but couldn’t get stopped,” he added.
“You can only imagine,” concluded Lampe, “thousands of tons of force behind a fully loaded freight train.” Meanwhile, Officer Ruter observed that “You see the condition of the vehicle, it’s not pleasant.”
Ogden resident Dan Froning, who lives a quarter of a mile from the crossing, said “I heard a crunch and got up to look, and I couldn’t see much, but it (the train) drug it (the auto) off there.”
Other residents and witnesses had plenty to say about the non-signalized, unprotected crossing. “More than one accident has happened at this intersection,” said JoAnn Korpi of Ogden. “We’re just thankful that no one died, because that would have been tragic.”
With the lack of active protective systems, “you just have to really, really look and a lot of times the trains come quietly when they should be tooting their horns, and you don’t know (a train is coming), so you just have to really slow down and look before you cross,” added Korpi.
Froning agreed with her, noting that crossings inside Ogden’s city limits have lights, bells and crossing gates, while crossings just outside of town don’t necessarily. “If we had the same thing out here that they have in town, where the arms come down way ahead of time, it saves 99 percent of us.”
Another Ogden resident, Dan Kallem, was in further agreement. “Even a train can sneak up on you,” he declared, “which maybe sounds a little bit crazy, but it can happen.” Kallem added that “Because we have trains coming through here so often, people are so aware of what can happen. We really try and pay attention, but I also understand how easily and quickly it can happen.”
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the crossing has now been the site of four accidents with a total injury count of three.
The car, which was carried by the locomotive some 60 feet before it became dislodged from the locomotive and spun off the tracks, was a total loss with extensive irreparable damage on the driver’s side. Although severe, the driver’s injuries were listed as “non-life threatening”.
The accident caused Iowans to recall only a week before, when two young sisters died and their mother and infant sister were injured when the mother drove around lowered gates, as she had been allowed to do moments before, and a standing train, only to be struck by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train hidden from view by the stationary train in the small Iowa community of Batavia.
When tragedy strikes small, close-knit communities like Batavia or Ogden, “You kind of assume that it’s somebody you know,” said Kallem. “So you want to understand pretty quickly if everybody’s OK and if there’s anything you can do to help,” he summarized.