Railroad Commisioner: Train crashes linked to train volume

Posted Monday, July 28, 2014 --- 9:40 p.m.

It was a deadly weekend for train accidents in Wisconsin. Three separate incidents in Wisconsin Dells, the Village of Gilman and Wisconsin Rapids left three people dead.

Another couple in Sun Prairie escaped without injuries after a train hit their SUV Saturday.

"This has been a very, very busy summer and it really concerns me and concerns law enforcement," said Jeff Plale, Commissioner of Railroads for Wisconsin.

Plale said several factors could be behind the spike in accidents, especially an increase in the volume of trains on Wisconsin's railroad tracks.

"There are lines that hadn't seen a train in 40 years or more, that now are seeing trains every single day," he said.

Much of the increase relates to a rebounding economy and more industries opting for railroad transportation.

For example, he said, in 2008, there were 9,700 crude oil tanker cars. Last year, there were 345,000 with more expected this year.

"People just need to be cognizant that if they see a track, there very well could be a train coming," he said.

Another factor is distracted drivers and pedestrians who don't see trains coming ahead of time.

Pete Deets, NBC15 Engineer and licensed train engineer, knows what it's like to be driving when something or someone is on the tracks ahead.

"The worst feeling is helplessness," Deets said.

Cars are able to stop much easier than a moving train, which also can't swerve in a different direction to avoid contact.

"A train can't turn. You can, so for your own safety, wherever you see railroad tracks, just look because there might be a train there," Deets said.

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