By James Pluta
Ray Zukowski is reaching for the fences.
But it's not his days as a player on the Glenbard West High School Hilltoppers baseball team he is thinking of, it's his crusade to convince elected leaders in Villa Park and his hometown of Lombard to do something serious about improving safety around neighborhood railroad tracks.
"We're pushing for the fences," has become the latest mantra for Zukowski, the father of the late Kristen Teresa Bowen, a 14-year-old Willowbrook High School freshman honor student who was struck and killed by an eastbound freight train on the Union Pacific Railroad line Feb. 11. "There's no way she ever would have gone over a fence."
On the eve of a Sept. 7 multijurisdictional safety blitz being conducted by police to educate commuters in Villa Park, Lombard and other DuPage County communities about railroad safety, Zukowski said he hoped a public safety task force meeting in Villa Park at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, and a Traffic and Safety Committee in Lombard meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, mirror each other's missions.
Despite the future potential cost to either the villages and cities or the railroad, he said he hopes they all jointly embrace the tenets of "Kristen's Law," as detailed on his Web site, www.kristenslaw.org.
Villa Park officials appear ready to consider installation of some type of fencing, though financing concerns remain an obstacle.
In Lombard, officials may also be near a solution, as they debate between fencing and thorny hedges.
"I would anticipate we should come to an agreement next week recommending both options, along with cost estimates from public works, to bring before the full Village Board," said Lombard Trustee Steven Sebby. "Initially, it seemed to be what residents were favoring was a thorny hedge, but some actually prefer a secure fence.
"They want some type of physical barrier and I agree with them. I just want something that's contiguous with Villa Park as best as we can, and if we can work jointly on this or try and secure some funding from outside sources together, we should."
Sebby said the village "should have the money" to start either option immediately, each of which will cost upwards of $100,000.
He said their goal is to get plantings in by the fall or fencing in by the winter or early spring.
Villa Park, meanwhile, has pegged fencing its section of the tracks at more than $1 million, and will soon be installing custom-made warning signs at various points along the tracks.
"Hey, that's something," said Zukowski, who is taking a trip this weekend to meet with a family in Oregon whose 16-year-old child was struck and killed by a train over the Labor Day holiday.
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