(Homer, Illinois – March 10, 2016)
The 73-year-old driver of a southbound pickup truck barely escaped death Thursday morning at about 10:15 A.M., CST when Bunge Grain Corporation contract construction crews failed to block off a double set of Norfolk Southern railroad tracks crossing Maple Street in Homer, IL. The construction crew’s work on the rail siding portion was not complete and consequently entrapped his vehicle only moments before a westbound NS freight train traveling at an estimated 40 to 50 mph totaled the stricken vehicle. The Norfolk Southern train hit the pickup’s passenger/driver portion and casting the disabled vehicle against a trackside building and then spinning it back onto the spur railroad track.
Attempts to notify the rapidly-approaching train via 911 were unsuccessful after James Campbell had his truck incapacitated, and, although the motorist was safe, “The train tore up the truck,” according to Champaign County Sheriff’s Dept. Chief Deputy Allen Jones.
“I wouldn’t have thought it would have happened to me,” Campbell told Champagne, IL’s WCIA-TV News Channel 3 Reporter Jessica Kunz. “I seen the train coming so I got out and tried to wave them down and I called 911,” the fortunate motorist, who said he was intending to file suit against those responsible, told WCIA. “They (the absent construction crews, who were working elevator trackage damaged about a week ago when seven rail cars derailed on the spur track) had two cones sitting on the side of the road and then the other side, they had cones sitting over there, but there’s nothing said the road was closed,” Campbell charged.
Jones told Champaign News-Gazette reporter Mary Schenk that “The road was not closed” by NS crews working the Bunge Grain Elevator-serving siding parallel to an NS main line track that accommodates a daily average of 32 trains at a top allowable speed of 60 mph. “However, the construction on the elevator spur, the second set of tracks along that line, was not blocked off,” continued the Chief Deputy. “There was incomplete construction. His (the victim’s) front end drops into the gap and now he’s stuck!”
“They (the construction crews) took the road out when they put the new rail in, but they never filled the road back in with blacktop,” said Homer Police Chief John Rouse to WCIA’s Kunz. “He goes on to say, the contractor left the scene, moved the barricades from both sides of the crossing and forgot to put them back, making it an unmarked construction zone” she reported.
CCSO Chief Deputy Jones further explained to The News-Gazette reporter that there would be no traffic citation issued against the hapless driver because “it’s not clear who should have been responsible for marking the area to notify motorists of the construction on the spur.”