After crash, request comes for crossing arms at tracks

Photo provided
Police say Shelly Schwenk, 64, Velpen was northbound on County Road 600W on Sept. 5 when she collided with a Norfolk Southern train.


A Velpen man is trying to get crossing arms at the railroad crossing on County Road 600 West where his wife’s vehicle collided with a train a couple weeks ago.

“This should have been done a long time ago, since (the road) is used so much,” said Sam Schwenk. “There is a blind spot there, with the cornfields. And the lights (at the crossing) are so fuzzy, you can barely make them out. By the time you see them, you’re already right there.”

That is what happened to Schwenk’s wife, Shelly, the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 5. Her northbound vehicle collided with the train, and totaled her car.

She is at home. Although she is still very sore, she is grateful that nothing worse happened..

“I feel very lucky to be alive,” she said.

The crossing was the site of another accident two years ago. In that July 2016 accident, a 27 year-old Evansville man died after his northbound vehicle crashed into a train.

Since his wife’s accident, Schwenk has talked to Dubois County officials, local state legislators and the Norfolk Southern Railway, requesting that the arms be added.

“This would help other people,” he said of adding crossing arms at the crossing. “I wanted to do what I could to help.”

County Highway Superintendent Steve Berg also contacted Norfolk Southern, and they are looking into the matter, Berg told the Dubois County Commissioners Monday.

“It makes sense,” Berg said. “With the traffic counts on the road, crossing arms are warranted. There are other areas with lower traffic counts that have arms at the railroad crossings.”

Traffic counts are actual counts of the number of vehicles that use a road. The counts are used to determine different road matters, like whether a road needs a stop sign or stop light. Berg indicated that a lot of vehicles use County Road 600 West.

Norfolk Southern is currently doing maintenance and repair work on crossings in the county, so Berg was hoping that this project could possibly be done while workers are still in the area. He also reached out to the Indiana Department of Transportation, he said. Some funding for upgrading safety measures at railroad crossings comes from INDOT. The agency will talk to its legal representatives, Berg was told.

State Sen. Mark Messmer, whom Schwenk contacted, has been looking into the matter, Commissioner Chad Blessinger said.

Messmer mentioned that it’s possible that INDOT would be willing to put this project in its current work list, but the county would have to pay for 10 percent of the work; that would be about $40,000. If that happened, the project would be in the design phase next and the construction phase in 2021.

“Mark said that if we don’t contribute, it could bump this project down the line another three, four years,” Blessinger said.

However, with the two accidents that have already occurred at the crossing, one of which was a fatality, the commissioners are hoping that more of the public will let their public officials know that the crossing arms are needed.

“I would think that if the people got involved, the public outcry could help fast-track this,” Blessinger said.

Schwenk plans to keep talking, keep asking, and keep trying to get the change made.

“It seems like it takes an accident or a death for something to get done. I don’t want someone else to get hurt or to die there,” he said. “I’m thankful to everybody for trying to get something done there.”

At Monday’s meeting, the commissioners also:

• Heard a request from law enforcement to place flood gates on County Road 400 South east of Van Buren Street. The area is the site of frequent rescues when the road floods, Berg said. The gates, which will cost about $3,000 to construct, would be similar to the gates on Kellerville Road near Cathy Lane. Berg explained that the western gate would be just west of the road’s railroad crossing, and the eastern gate would be situated south of County Road 375 South. The county’s policy is to keep the gates closed until all the water is off the road and the road debris has been cleared. The request is under consideration.

• Told 911 Director Janice Love to seek applications to hire a new dispatcher to replace one that is resigning. Love hopes to get several applications, because a couple other dispatchers are also planning to leave in the next few months, she said.

• Agreed to change the dispatchers’ work shifts from 8 hours to 12 hours, which Love said the employees would prefer. This lines up with law enforcement officers, who also work 12-hour shifts.

• Approved allowing Jasper Engines & Transmissions to use a portion of Old Huntingburg Road and County Road 100 South for its 5K walk/run, which will be held at 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 27.

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