(Central City, Nebraska – January 26, 2016)
A 53-year-old career farmer lost his life Tuesday morning just before 10 A.M., CST as he attempted to cross Union Pacific Railroad tracks at the dangerous, unguarded, angular intersection of Merrick County 19th Road, about 2 ½ miles northeast of Central City, NE, northbound. His vehicle was struck by an eastbound Union Pacific freight train, one of a daily average of 57 trains that ply the double-tracked rail line at maximum speeds as high as 70 mph.
Steven Bankson, who had farmed with his family in Hamilton County, NE prior to gaining employment with the Beck Family Farms in Merrick County and moving to Central City, was described by Jerry Beck as being “like family”, adding that “I just don’t think people realize until somebody’s gone how important they are to you.”
Merrick County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy John Westman told Staff Writer React Overstreet of The Grand Island Independent that “The driver of the vehicle was pronounced deceased at the scene.” Assisting the MCSO in responding to the tragic accident were the Central City Police Dept., the Central City Fire Dept. and the Central City Rescue Squad.
The parallel and extremely close adjacency of heavily-travelled U.S. Highway 30 to the equally-busy UPRR tracks, which cross 19th Road at a 30 degree angle, makes the crossing, which is not equipped with any active warning protection, such as lights and gates, even more hazardous. It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, this tragedy would not have happened. Both Union Pacific and Operation Lifesaver know that 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 and gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.
“We would just give anything for a crossing (signal and gate) down here because we go across it all the time,” Beck told NBC Nebraska’s Anastasia Champ. He called the victim, employee and family friend “a quiet man”, and that “He will be sorely missed.”