(Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin – June 25, 2014)
For a second time in the troubled history of a public crossing of a rail line leading into a chemical plant in Pleasant Prairie, WI, black tank cars left blocking the dangerous and unguarded public highway/railroad intersection have been the catalyst for catastrophe. A man headed for work collided with a dark tank car blocking the crossing, which has no active protection such as flashing lights, bells and crossing gates, the likes of which, if properly functioning, would have prevented both accidents.
Although the first collision, which occurred at about 11:37 P.M. CST on January 5, 2006, resulted only in property damage and no personal injury, the one that occurred just before midnight Wednesday was far more serious. Juan Matias, 47, of Kenosha, WI was seriously injured when he failed to see the tank car blocking the road in the darkness due to both the lack of automatic signals and the nonexistent lighting of the intersection of County Road H (88th Avenue) and Canadian Pacific railroad tracks.
The victim was transported to a Kenosha, WI hospital after being extricated from his vehicle by firefighters, and was admitted in stable condition for treatment of a fractured hip and numerous cuts requiring stitches.
“It does get incredibly dark in that area and especially lately, with the fog coming in at night,” Matias’ daughter, Alex Harris-Ulloa told News Radio WTMJ, AM 620’s Michele Fiore,” it would have been impossible to see especially if it was a black train.”
The problems with CP Rail switching the EMCO Chemical plant has been on the Pleasant Prairie city fathers’ hit list for years, ever since Village Administrator Michael Pollocoff sent a letter in 1993 to the Wisconsin State Rail Commissioner, and followed it up with another request for improved safety signalization at the crossing in 2011. Both requests fell upon deaf ears in Madison. But Pollocoff refuses to give up, especially now that a serious accident has been suffered at the crossing. “I really hope if anything comes out of this positive it is to get that crossing gate put up!” he told MTMJ’s Fiore.
As previously mentioned, the crossing is not equipped with any active warning devices, such as lights and gates, which could warn of the approach of a Canadian Pacific freight train or Amtrak passenger train on the main line which parallels 88th Avenue/CRH, the line from which the lead into the chemical plant emanates. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this tragedy. Both Canadian 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 and gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.
Times were already tough for Matias, who was only a week shy of full medical coverage from his current employer. His mother passed away earlier this year, and his wife is currently battling lupus.
“And this has just added more onto our grief,” lamented the victim’s daughter. “It’s just one blow right after another.”
Meanwhile, word from Madison is that the state rail commissioner has “agreed to reconsider Pleasant Prairie’s request for better warning signs at the crossing on 88th Avenue.