Ravenna — The recent death of a 15-year-old girl has spurred Ravenna Township trustees to take action to make a railroad crossing safer.
Trustees voted last week to ask the Norfolk Southern Corp. to put lights and gates at the crossing where Sierra Thornton, 15, was killed Oct. 6. Thornton, who had just gotten her temporary driver’s permit, was driving an SUV with her father and four sisters, who survived.
Sierra’s family lives in one of three homesaccessed by a private driveway off Prospect Street that crosses the tracks. The crossing has a train pass through once every 22.3 minutes, or 62 trains a day, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
But there’s no requirement for gates or lights because it is a private crossing. That sparked trustees to ask the railroad to look into putting lights and gates at the crossing.
Trustee Pat Artz said she thinks the railroad will take their resolution seriously “especially when you have a tragedy like that.”
Vicky Moore, founder of the Angels on Track Foundation, recently said the current cost of such equipment hovers around $250,000. However, the more dangerous a crossing is rated, the more likely the railroad company can secure federal funds that would pay 100 percent of the costs associated with outfitting a crossing with gates and lights.
She said by law, a rail company is not responsible for accidents at gateless crossings. However, when a gate is installed, the company is responsible for maintaining the equipment. If that equipment malfunctions, then the company could be found liable for a related accident — ultimately creating a disincentive to improve a grade crossing for public safety.
Artz suggested that a less costly option might be to connect the development to Harvest Rose, an apartment complex off North Diamond Street in the city, and close the railroad crossing to the public.
Vince Coia, chairman of the trustees, said the letter was a “gesture,” noting that trustees have no authority to force the railroad to make safety improvements.
Sierra’s funeral was Friday. Her father and sister were released from area hospitals earlier that week.
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