Safe Crossing Week hits home to local families

RRsafety.jpg Staff photo by John Cox A little boy watches a Metra train go by during the dedication of the last part of fencing erected on the north side of the railroad tracks west of the Ardmore Metra stop in Villa Park April 2.


Lombard, IL -

This week marks Safe Crossing Week, a nationwide effort to raise awareness for railroad safety, which has particular significance to the Lombard and Villa Park communities.

In February 2006, Lombard teen Kristen Bowen was fatally injured when she was clipped by a freight train at the railroad tracks just a quarter-mile west of Addison Road in Villa Park while walking to meet friends. She had waited for one train to pass, but did not realize there was another one coming from the other direction when she tried to cross. There was no fence where 14-year-old Bowen attempted to cross the tracks.

The story was an eerie reminder to residents of a similar accident that had happened 18 years prior, when Heather Dickhaut was hit and killed by a train near the Addison Road crossing.

These deaths are not uncommon. In 2008, it was reported that there were approximately 744 fatalities and 1,372 injuries involving trains in the United States. Last year, train accidents in Illinois were more deadly than those in any other state in the country.

Yet, the death of Bowen is what prompted Villa Park Board Member John Davis to initiate a plan to promote railroad safety throughout DuPage County. Davis, who is a certified operational lifesaver instructor, played a major role in gaining approval for the installation of miles of safety fencing along the eastbound and westbound railways through Villa Park and Lombard. To him, railroad safety is part of his daily life.

“It’s an ongoing, constant thing,” said Davis.

Davis, along with his two daughters, have done much fundraising for railroad safety and were able to get fences installed along the Union Pacific Railroad in Villa Park. Completed this spring at a cost of more than $100,000, the three-year project ensured that both sides of the tracks were fenced in, discouraging pedestrians from taking shortcuts over them.

Bowen’s father, Raymond Zukowski, created nonprofit organization TEARS — Targeting Education Awareness and Railroad Safety. The organization promotes railway safety while assisting victims’ families through contributions and fundraising activities.

The organization has been trying to spread the word about Safe Crossing Week, recognized this first week of November, through the Web site

“Right now, we’re trying to get the word out on basic, safety, precautionary measures,” Zukowski said.


Railroad safety tips

* Tips provided by TEARS

                                                                                                                              Written by By Eleni Demertzis