September 6, 2002
SPRINGFIELD (Sept. 6)–A Sangamon County judge Thursday lifted a temporary restraining order against the Illinois Commerce Commission, allowing the ICC to proceed with its citation of the Norfolk Southern Corp. for failing to maintain visibility at a rural grade crossing where a woman and four children were killed in a car-train collision July 9.
Associate Judge Stuart Shiffman imposed the restraining order August 26 after attorneys for the railroad argued that a state law mandating railroads to keep their grade crossings clear was unconstitutionally vague. The railroad also had complained that the Commission itself bore some responsibility for the accident because it had rejected a 1988 request by Jefferson County officials for installation of automatic warning devices at the crossing.
But Judge Shiffman lifted the order after finding that the Commission was within its authority when it cited the railroad for failing to clear brush and undergrowth as specified in a state law that reads:
“Every railroad shall keep its right-of-way adjacent to its tracks reasonably clear of brush, shrubbery, trees, weeds, crops and all unnecessary permanent obstructions such as unauthorized signs and billboards for a distance of at least 500 feet each way from every grade crossing where such things would materially obscure the view of approaching trains to travelers on the highway.”
The judge also ruled that the Commission was justified in not ordering signals installed because the crossing was not busy enough to meet the state’s threshold criteria for signalization.
The Commission’s August citation said Norfolk Southern had neglected its crossing at Marlow, near Mt. Vernon in Jefferson County, on NS’s main line connecting St. Louis, Mo., with Louisville, Ky. The crossing was protected only by crossbucks and motorists had to rely on their own vigilance to detect the approach of a train.
On July 9 a mini-van driven by Connie Lorance, 39, was struck by an NS train at the crossing, killing her and her two children, along with her young niece and nephew. Ms. Lorance’s husband survived.
An ICC spokesman said a hearing into the charges in the citation would be held August 13 at the Commission’s offices in Springfield.