(Macomb, Illinois – May 25, 2017)
A beloved retired Western Illinois University professor and well-known public activist was pronounced dead Thursday afternoon at about 4:00 P.M., CDT. The professor was driving his Toyota Corolla southbound when it was struck at a dangerous and unguarded private crossing three miles west of Macomb, IL
Alfred G. Belles, 76, of Macomb was travelling south just after leaving U.S. Highway 136 between Macomb and Colchester, IL, when it was struck by Amtrak’s Illinois Zephyr. Since Federal Railroad Administration rules do not require locomotive engineers to sound their train’s horn at crossings designated as “private”, it is not known if the victim received any warning of the approach of the train. The Amtrak train was one of a daily average of two dozen Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight trains and Amtrak passenger trains which cross the 8001 West U.S. 136 acutely angular private crossing daily at a maximum allowable speed of 79mph.
A pregnant passenger on the Amtrak train was taken to McDonough District Hospital as a precaution. The train consisted of a locomotive and three passenger cars.
Staff Writer Rich Egger of The Macomb Post noted that “There is a stop sign posted at the crossing where the crash happened, but there are no gates or crossing lights.”
A collision between a freight train and a car at a private crossing (McIntyre Crossing) in the same rail corridor resulted in the tragic deaths of two people on March 23, 1986.
Between 1968 and 1996, Belles was Professor of the Department of Recreation, Park and Administration at the prestigious WIU, and in a statement, University President Jack Thomas said “He was a wonderful man and will be missed. We send our deepest condolences to Gil’s many friends, his family, and to the members of his WIU family.”
Over the years, and continuing in his retirement, Belles was involved in “Open Door”, a WIU program to combat homophobia, YMCA, the Performing Arts Society, Meals on Wheels, the Western Illinois Museum, McDonough County Historical Society and Tri-States Public Radio, among others.