Investigation into fatal car-train accident ongoing


Published Wednesday, January 16, 2008

ILLIOPOLIS — The probe into how an Illiopolis man was killed when his vehicle collided with a freight train Monday morning is continuing, authorities said Tuesday.


John T. Wright, 58, died of injuries to his body during the crash, which happened about 6:20 a.m. Monday at Old Route 36 and Cantrell Road west of Illiopolis.

The conductor of the train told Sangamon County deputies that the Ford Explorer that Wright was driving crossed the tracks in front of the train, and the train hit it.

Deputies found skid marks at the site, leading them to believe Wright attempted to stop prior to the collision. The railroad crossing has no warning lights or crossing arms.

Wright’s SUV overturned two or three times before coming to rest on the north side of the tracks.

Wright was the married father of three and grandfather of four. He was a Vietnam War veteran, a farmer and a real estate broker, and he was involved with the Illiopolis School Board, Niantic Township and other activities.

In response to the accident, state Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, on Tuesday filed legislation requiring stop signs to be installed at all railroad crossings that have no warning devices, such as crossing gates, flashing lights or signals.

He said that currently “crossbucks,” which are black and white “X” signs, are the only required signage at railroad crossings.

“Without other signals, a stop sign is the least that drivers should have to alert them at a railroad crossing,” Bomke said in a news release. “My hope is that this saves lives and that another family doesn’t lose a loved one because of a tragedy like the one in Illiopolis.”

The approximate cost, including installation of the signs, would be $1.5 million.

However, Mike Stead, rail safety program administrator for the Illinois Commerce Commission, said, “In my personal opinion, stop signs would be detrimental. Crossbuck signs over the years have been meant to provide the same message highway yield signs provide.”

“Additionally, railroads in the state have installed yield signs with crossbucks to reinforce the idea that drivers should yield to oncoming rail traffic,” Stead said. “Drivers ignoring the stop signs and continuing through the crossing … that kind of activity could bleed over into rural highways where stop signs are equipped. Crossbucks and yield signs would be a more prudent measure.”

Staff writer Meagan Sexton contributed to this report.