Father welcomes decision on gates at train crossing where daughter died



By Denise Hollinshed



After his daughter was killed at a gateless railroad crossing in Marissa last year, Kenneth Calvert became a man on a mission.

The crash that killed 13-year-old Donna Calvert and two others prompted Calvert to quit his job as a machinist and spend his days pressing officials to install safety gates at the crossing in the heart of the tiny St. Clair County community.

On Wednesday, the Illinois Commerce Commission voted to approve plans for the gates where the Illinois Central Railroad tracks cross South Main Street and Finger Hill Road.

"I'm happy they are doing it," Calvert said Friday. "Now the railroad has up to one year to install these gates, so I'm just kind of sitting back to see how long it's going to take them if they are just going to drag their feet or do it immediately."


The ICC says the gates should be in place within a year. The commission's Grade Crossing Protection Fund will pay 95 percent of the $272,000 cost and the Illinois Central Railroad will pay the rest.

Last year, ICC officials had said that gates were scheduled to be installed at the crossing by 2010.

The gates will be the first at the crossing since 1962, when gates there were removed after the double tracks running through the village were replaced with a single track. The flashing red warning lights stayed.

It was unclear whether the crash that claimed Donna Calvert's life prompted the commission to speed up plans for the new gates, but city officials had said after the accident that they would be asking to have the gates installed sooner.

An average of 2,300 vehicles cross the train tracks on Main Street each day. Six trains usually pass through the area on any given day.

On Nov. 20, an Illinois Central coal train struck the SUV Donna Calvert was in. SUV driver Tina Porter, 43, and her daughter Allaysa Porter, 13, were also killed. Julie Seymour, 12, was seriously injured. It's unclear why Tina Porter drove over the tracks as the train approached.

Calvert, 40, said he and his family have lived around train tracks for years and never gave them much thought until the accident. "Once you are around them for so long it's just another noise," he said. "Well, now, when we hear a train, we get clammy."

At their home in Marissa, Calvert said, the bedroom of the daughter he called D.J. is still the same.

"My wife wakes me up in the middle of the night because I'm lying there crying," he said softly. "I've lived that day when I was walking up Main Street in Marissa, walking up to the train tracks. I relive it every day. It's horrifying. I hope no one will ever have to go through this."

While he's happy about the decision to install the crossing gates, Calvert said his mission is not complete. He wants the trains that pass through Marissa to slow down.

He said he has been told that if trains traveling at 60 mph reduced their speed as they went through the community, they could jiggle back and forth and potentially derail.

But Calvert says he won't give up. "We weren't asking for much," he said. "Why do you have to do 60 through the community?"