Group: Good fences equal railroad safety

Lombard board will now here plan to put barrier between tracks and 4 cul de sacs

Posted Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Lombard joint committee will recommend installing continuous fencing to run along the Union Pacific railroad tracks and create a barrier between the rails and four village cul de sacs.

These connected fences would make it difficult for people to deliberately, and illegally, shortcut over tracks, sending them instead to a designated railroad crossing.

The group made up of members of the village’s transportation and safety committee, and the public works committee voted 9-3 Tuesday night to place the issue on the agenda at the next village board meeting on Oct. 19.

That recommendation came after some debate about the effectiveness of fencing as a deterrent to those seeking a quicker way over tracks rather than walking to a crossing and the work necessary for fencing upkeep.

It also followed impassioned comments from residents who’ve made railroad safety their life’s work.

“It’s easier to maintain a fence than a gravesite,” said Ray Zukowski.

In February, Zukowski’s daughter, Kristen Bowen, of Villa Park, was killed while trying to walk over the rails at Ahrens Avenue between Lombard and Villa Park. She was 14.

Officials in both Lombard and Villa Park have been active in finding the best ways to create barriers between their villages and the railroad tracks.

Some residents attending the meeting held miniature fences decorated with pictures of Kristen. They supported the fencing plan and increases in railroad safety education through a program called Operation Lifesaver.

“I think we are moving in the right direction,” said Trustee Steve Sebby, chairman of the transportation and safety committee following the meeting.

Sebby’s committee has been investigating whether fences or thick bush landscaping would be the best barrier at the dead ends of Chase, Westmore, Highland and Aherns avenues.

That committee discovered, to their surprise, that the price of placing 6-foot fencing along the ends of these avenues costs less than a landscaping option.

Fencing would cost $60,000 for the entire project, based on spending $40 for each foot of its length. Landscaping for the same stretch would run $72,660.

While it received the joint committee’s support, not all members think fencing will be effective in preventing accidental deaths like that of Kristen.

Committeeman Dave Arnold said in his 26 years in the village he’s seen several people killed on the railroad tracks. Education, not fences, Arnold said, is the key to saving lives.

Holding up Operation Lifesaver pamphlets, Arnold said, “All of them talk about railroad safety. None of them talk about putting up fences.”

But the majority of committee members felt fences were the best deterrent to illegal and dangerous railroad track crossings.

Along with serving on a committee, Sebby said, “We are parents too and we realize we can’t watch our children all of the time. That’s why, he said a physical barrier must be placed here.”