NEW: Railroad workers warn motorists about safety




June 10, 2009 - 3:58 PM



The Telegraph


HARTFORD - Three months after a motorist was killed by an Amtrak train, a group of concerned railroad officials brought a safety message to drivers crossing tracks throughout the village.

Officials with the Norfolk Southern Railroad handed out brochures and other safety materials Wednesday as a reminder for drivers to slow down and use sense at hazardous crossings.

"Everyone I dealt with was very positive," said Rick Deichmann, a special agent with the railroad police. "About a half a dozen people were familar with the crash."

Heather Sheree Balven, 31, of St. Louis was killed March 13 when her pickup truck was struck by a northbound Amtrak train at Seventh and Olive streets.

Although the incident occurred on Kansas City Southern Railroad tracks, the tragedy highlighted a concern faced by every railroad, Deichmann said.

The 11 people participating Wednesday represented Norfolk Southern's St. Louis Terminal Safety Committee, and they were made up of representatives from various departments in the railroad -  locomotive engineers, switchmen, police officers and others who see the hazards that exist, Deichmann said.

Personnel talked to motorists along Hawthorne Avenue, Seventh Street and Rand Avenue, Deichmann said. They discussed the importance of slowing down, looking both directions, not going around crossing gates, and not letting children or others walk on or near tracks.

Nationally, more people die while trespassing on tracks than do drivers in cars, he said.

It doesn't take much for a collision to prove fatal. The train that struck Balven was estimated to be traveling between 50 and 60 mph at the time of the crash. Balven's vehicle, a full-size pickup truck, was sent an estimated 75 feet into the air.

Commercial vehicle drivers were given laminated cards with emergency telephone numbers that can be kept in their visors. Other motorists were given brochures with safety tips compiled by Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit international public safety program established in 1972 and supported by railroads and law enforcement.

The group spent about two hours in Hartford. Deichmann said the group does something similar about twice a year, once in Illinois and once in Missouri. It was only about the second time crew members had been to Hartford in about 20 years.

The investigation into Balven's death still is not complete. A Madison County coroner's inquest is scheduled next week.