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History: The Great Teacher. Lessons of Railroad Crossing History

55th Anniversary of Eight-Fatality Crossing Accident Passes

(Elyria, Ohio – May 20, 2011)

It was 55 years ago Friday that an Akron, OH motorist, confused and unfamiliar with the Cleveland area, crossed paths with New York Central Railroad’s crack passenger train, “The Pacemaker”, at the dangerous, unguarded railroad crossing of the NYC tracks and Murray Ridge Road in Elyria.

On May 20, 1956, Millard C. Martin, his wife, Eugenia, their four children ranging in age from 3 to 15, and another couple, Warren and Mary Edwards, all of Akron, OH, had come to Elyria to hear some Akron evangelists speak, and were returning home when they became lost looking for the entrance to the Ohio Turnpike. The train hit their 1956 Oldsmobile at 75 miles per hour as the group crossed the unguarded crossing, and “the scene of the carnage was almost impossible to describe.”

A NYC Railroad spokesman told the local newspaper “We’re horrified – but that’s a weak word.” Five victims were found still in the Oldsmobile, which was virtually welded to the train’s locomotive by the force of the collision.

The train took a mile to stop, and one body was found 350 feet down the tracks from the railroad crossing, while two more were found 2,000 feet beyond the point of the collision. The Chronicle-Telegram reported that railroad veteran Ray Bottles, who was quite familiar with the accident, said “Before the crash, the Murray Ridge railroad crossing was unguarded”, but that “Following the May 20, 1956 crash, lights and crossing gates were installed.”

Read more HERE.


Both Railroad and City Considered Safety of Human Beings the Highest Priority

(Galesburg, Illinois – May 21, 2011)

The central Illinois city of Galesburg was a railroad town long before Poet Carl Sandburg made it famous. In fact, Sandburg’s father worked for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, which later became Burlington Northern and today is Burlington Northern Santa Fe. According to local historian and Galesburg Register-Mail columnist Tom Wilson, the Santa Fe component of the mega-merger had its difficulties with the city for the better part of the 20th Century.

The ATSF (Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe) Railway made a request of the City in 1972 that called for closure of six or seven of the Santa Fe’s 17 railroad crossings in Galesburg, citing the “high costs of maintaining the crossing surfaces as the major reason for the request”. The ATSF indicated a willingness to install increased safety devices at the remaining crossings in exchange for the proposed closings. As the historian observed, “It seems to be a given that both parties consider safety of human beings the highest priority.”

Galesburg’s city council, especially Alderman Curtis Erickson, was far from enamored with the proposal. Erickson was particularly miffed about Santa Fe’s refusal to pay the costs for replacement of the Farnham Street Bridge, an ancient (built in 1909) mostly-wooden structure which ATSF owned anyway, saying that they (the Santa Fe) had no legal obligation to do so.

Regardless the city council compromised, agreeing to close four crossings in exchange for the railroad funding a bridge over one crossing and sharing in the cost of rebuilding the Farnham Street overpass. But Santa Fe turned Galesburg down on the proposal, prompting Erickson to say “The Santa Fe wants to sock it to us,” and leading the city council to go on record opposing any crossing closures. Arrogantly, the railroad went to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which had authority over railroad safety for the state, asking it to act. The ICC allowed two crossing closures and, after a number of public hearings, permitted the city to formulate construction of a new bridge for Farnham Street over the railroad tracks.

The shared costs would include $187,333 from the State of Illinois’ Grade Crossing Protection Fund (taxpayer money), $192,667 from the City of Galesburg (more taxpayer funds), and a generous $35,000 from the railroad, a grand total of $415,000 for the project. That was quite a bargain, considering that, had the project been conducted when it was originally proposed in 1972 (a year earlier), the estimated cost totaled only $250,000. But through inflation, the cost nearly doubled. Nothing like procrastination when “safety is of the highest priority.”        

Read more on this story HERE.