(St. Croix County, Wisconsin – February 5, 2014)
The tragic irony and proximity of two tragic railroad crossing accidents at dangerous and unguarded Union Pacific Railroad grade crossings being suffered in two neighboring St. Croix County, WI communities only eight miles apart in two days is doing little for the image of railroad-sponsored safety programs, especially in the state of Wisconsin.
On Wednesday, just before noon, a 69-year-old couple from Cumberland, WI attempted to cross the same UP tracks just east of Baldwin, WI that had experienced a fatality Monday to a local area businessman as he serviced customers in the Hammond, WI area, only to see a westbound UPRR freight train consisting of two locomotives pulling 63 cars bearing down upon their pickup truck. The husband and driver attempted to back off the tracks, but was too late to avoid the train, which had been concealed from his view by a grove of trees between the private business crossing and the train, one of four daily trains that the Federal Railroad Administration reports travel that particular rail line daily at top allowable speeds of 50 mph. The ensuing collision, which overturned their pickup truck, left his spouse trapped inside their vehicle, which emergency responders from the United Fire Dept. cut open to extricate her.
The victims, who were later identified as Gloria H. Marske and her husband, Roy L. Marske, were rushed to Baldwin Area Medical Center by Baldwin Area EMS ambulance, where Mrs. Marske was pronounced dead upon arrival, while Mr. Marske was admitted for treatment of non-life threatening injuries. The couple was just returning from the Smith Sales auction barn.
On Monday, another westbound UPRR freight train had struck and killed Benjamin C. Morgan, 53, of Hudson, WI, the owner-operator of Tri-County Sanitation, who was driving his 1998 Mack septic tank service truck southbound on 150th Street just west of Hammond, WI about 11:00 A.M.
Both tragedies occurred at crossings described by an unnamed Union Pacific spokesman as equipped only with “non-active warning devices” consisting of passive railroad cross-buck and highway signage, neither of which have the capability to warn motorists of the impending approach of trains. Only properly-operating active devices such as flashing lights, bells and crossing gates can perform such duties, and neither crossing had such. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both Union Pacific and Operation Lifesaver know 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 can gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.
“It’s a very strange occurrence to have two (grade crossing accidents) this close together, observed St. Croix County Sheriff John Shilts, who added that the crashes, both of which are still under investigation, appeared to be a coincidence.