FRA: Community has no control over train speed limits

By Danielle Komis

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

GLENDALE - Tuesday’s accident that took the life of a longtime cook at The Whistle Stop restaurant was at least the ninth accident in the past five years at Glendale railroad crossings.

Elsie M. Thompson, 66, of Upton, died in that accident after she was struck by a train near the Ky. 222 crossing. Six years ago, the pastor of Glendale United Methodist Church was killed by a CSX train passing through Glendale.

The high number of train-related accidents in the area is alarming, said Andrew Gani, son of the Rev. Jean M. Washer, who died in the 1999 accident.

“It breaks my heart,” he said. “I wish I could do something.”

Glendale residents and business owners also said they are fed up with the train-related accidents at the railroad crossings at Ky. 222 and Ky. 1136 and demand safer crossings for the growing population of the small town.

Mike Cummins, owner of The Whistle Stop restaurant near the Ky. 222 crossing, said he has been worried about the safety of the crossing since he bought the restaurant in March.

Cummins circulated a petition to get crossing arms installed at the crossing, and recently was told by the governor’s office that crossing arms likely will be installed sometime in 2006, he said. But it has been a confusing path to identify who is responsible for the safety of the crossing, he said.

“They really didn’t give me who to call,” he said.

Becky Judson, public information officer for District 4 of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said a diagnostic team that consists of individuals from several different state and local government agencies and a representative of the railroad company determine what kind of safety warning device might be necessary. For a crossing to be added to the safety program, it must rank in the top 50 most dangerous crossings based on physical characteristics and its accident history.

While crossing arms probably could not have saved Thompson, who attempted to walk across the rail tracks at an unmarked location, Cummins said crossing arms would prevent accidents involving vehicles.

After the accident, many area residents said they also wished the trains -- which travel up to 60 miles per hour -- would slow down through town.

However, the Federal Railroad Administration does not require trains to slow down through cities, said Steve Kulm, a spokesman for the FRA. Speed limits depend on the quality and frequency of track maintenance, he said.

“If the railroad maintains the track to allow for a certain speed, that’s what it is,” he said. “The locals do not have control of it.”

Freight and passenger trains are then separated into different classes that allow for different speed limits, Kulm said.

However, trains may slow down if there are curves or inclines in the track, said Kim Skorniak, spokesperson for CSX. The speed limit for the track between Louisville and Nashville is 60 miles per hour, she said.

Kulm said trespassers, like Thompson, are the No. 1 cause of railroad deaths. According to the FRA, eight trespassers were killed or injured by trains in 2005. Half of those deaths involved CSX trains.

“Tracks are dangerous places, and they are private property,” Kulm said.

Gani, who has a wrongful death lawsuit pending against CSX, said he is tired of hearing excuses from officials.

“It’s as frustrating as can be when you feel like everyone’s off the hook for no reason,” he said.

Gani’s main purpose is to see the area around the Glendale train tracks made safer so others won’t have to suffer the pain that he and his family -- and now Thompson’s family -- have suffered.

“It should have been fixed by now,” he said. “I don’t want anybody else killed down there.”