(Chester, Wisconsin – February 5, 2014)
For the third time in three days, rural, dangerous and unguarded Wisconsin railroad grade crossings have been the site of deaths or serious injuries to travelers on highways where government and industry authorities see no reason to install active warning devices to help stop these needless tragedies.
This time, it was a 54-year-old driver and his 15-year-old passenger, both male residents of Dalton, WI, who were added to negative Badger State railroad crossing statistics when their Dodge pickup truck, hauling a gooseneck trailer eastbound on Oakwood Road near the small Dodge County community of Chester, struck a train.
Jeffrey Smith and his as-yet unidentified passenger were approaching the crossing of the rural road and Wisconsin & Southern Railroad tracks when they saw, too late, the southbound 22-car freight train pulled by a pair of locomotives bearing down on the crossing. According to Dodge County Sheriff Pat Ninmann, “The engineer said the train was travelling at 28 mph and sounded its horn and bells prior to the collision. That railroad crossing on Oakwood Road is controlled only by (crossbucks) with no lights or gates.” According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the track speed limit in that area is only 25 mph.
Also, at this crossing there are only passive railroad cross-bucks or highway yield signs cannot possibly warn motorists of the approach of a train. Only properly-functioning flashing lights, bells and crossing gates have the capability to give such a warning. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both Wisconsin & Southern 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%.
The sheriff indicated further that tire skid marks on the highway showed that Smith attempted to take evasive action by turning left, which spun the truck and trailer clockwise, hit the trackside ditch, and struck the side of the first locomotive.
“The truck became entangled in the first engine and was dragged south across Oakwood Road before coming to rest in the south ditch,” Sheriff Ninmann continued. He concluded by saying alcohol and drugs did not appear to be factors in the crash, which occurred just prior to 4:00 P.M.
The two victims were transported by Lifestar Ambulance to Waupun Hospital, where they were admitted with non-life threatening injuries.
The Wisconsin & Southern is a regional railroad owned by the privately-held Watco railroad group of Pittsburg, KS, which owns or operates 30 railroads in 21 states as well as one in Australia.
Wednesday’s wreck followed two in Wisconsin’s St. Clair County where the driver of a septic tank service truck died at a dangerous, unguarded crossing of Union Pacific rails near Hammond, WI Monday morning about 11:00 A.M., and a 69-year-old married couple from Cumberland, WI collided with another UPRR train only eight miles west of Monday’s tragedy at a dangerous and unguarded UP crossing just east of Baldwin, WI, about noon Wednesday, killing the wife and seriously injuring the husband.