Group aims at preventing death on the tracks



Oak Brook, IL -

With tons of steel barreling behind and imminent tragedy stranded ahead, Union Pacific engineer Ford Dodson rammed through the worst day of his life at 69 miles per hour.

Dodson, of Hazelcrest, was operating a passenger train en route to Chicago on Oct. 25, 1995, when a yellow school bus pulled out in front, stopping on the tracks on a crossing in Fox River Grove. Despite sending whistle signals, Dodson said the bus did not move.

The images of that day are still vivid in his mind.

The train hit the back 30 inches of the bus, causing the bus to spin 180 degrees. With 37 people on the bus that day, five children were killed and two more later died from injuries.

“That was the worst day of my life,” Dodson said.

Stories like Dodson’s are pushing a local group to drive an effort to make Illinois railroads safer. At the seventh rail safety summit on Sept. 18, the DuPage Railroad Safety Council, Illinois Commerce Commission and Operation Lifesaver, hosted “Prevent Tragedy on the Tracks by Promoting Sealed Railroad Corridors,” educating guests on sealed corridors.

A sealed corridor implements methods to reduce pedestrian and vehicle accidents in railroad crossings.

From 1980 to 2007, Illinois documented 8,295 train related collisions resulting in 1,227 deaths and 3,283 injuries. One such accident was related by Dodson, who was invited to the event to tell his story.

The summit focused on safer methods to implement at crossings to prevent accidents such as Dodson’s. Paul Worley of the North Carolina Department of Transportation presented the audience with examples of how the state’s safety initiative has resulted in safer crossings while being cost effective.

In North Carolina, Worley said they have evaluated signal systems, and have invested in longer gate arms and four quadrant gates in many areas, which have all yielded positive results.

Hinsdale resident Lanny Wilson, chairman for the DuPage Railroad Safety Council, said that Illinois is looking to replicate North Carolina’s success with four-quadrant gates. Wilson’s involvement in railroad safety began after his daughter, Lauren, was killed at a railroad crossing in 1994.

“At first I just wanted to fix the crossing where Lauren died and I knew four quadrant gates would do that,” Wilson said.

Illinois currently has 79 four quadrant gates and, with time to prove its success and enough funding, Wilson’s goal is to see all state crossings equipped with these quadrants.

“That is my dream and my hope. That is what the DuPage Railroad Safety Council is working toward,” Wilson said. “I wish these changes would happen overnight but we have to be patient.”