Close encounter with a Northstar
Fri, 02/21/2014 - 10:20am admin
Railroad tracks and roads often run side-by-side and occasionally they cross each other. Since trains need far more time to slow down and stop than cars do, the rule is the train has the right-of-way.
When the stop arm is down at a crossing, cars are required to stop and let the train pass. This week, two cars were found on the railroad tracks in Elk River when the Northstar Commuter train was coming through.
Monday Big Lake mom Anja Bochenski had a terrifying experience when she was taking her son, 15-month old Henry, to day care. Her vehicle stalled on the tracks at the Proctor Avenue crossing.
Anja had stopped at the tracks, waiting for a train to pass. The stop arm lifted and she moved forward but the arm came down again as another train was coming.
“It had snowed that morning and the roads were slippery, said Elk River Police Dept. Capt. Bob Kluntz.
Anja’s vehicle slid and she said another vehicle also slid and pushed her into the path of the oncoming train.
Bochenski couldn’t even get her door open with the stalled engine. Frantic, she put the car in park, reverse, drive.
Nothing helped. She managed to get the window down, jumped out and ran around the car to grab Henry while the oncoming train sounded its whistle, ever closer.
Words cannot describe her anguish as she watched the train collide with her car, infant son inside, spinning around on the road. She feared for the worst and her heart sank, but when at last she reached the vehicle, Henry was crying but otherwise uninjured except for some bruising from the car seat.
“It’s a dangerous, dangerous thing to try to cross the train tracks when the train is coming,” Capt. Kluntz said. “I have seen a lot of train crashes. It depends on where it hits. Just a matter of inches can make all the difference. These people were very, very fortunate.”
The latest incident was Tuesday when a vehicle with three people inside attempted to cross the tracks in front of the oncoming east bound train on Hwy. 10 and Jackson Avenue.
The driver, 21 year-old Rita Hickey, decided to drive around the arm and tried to make a U-turn. She and passengers Jonathan Markey, 20, of Elk River, and 23-year-old Jacob Eng of Elk River were still in the vehicle when the train hit.
All three escaped after the vehicle was shoved down the track and into the path of the oncoming westbound train, which hit the car again seconds later, damaging it beyond repair.
Medics evaluated the driver and passengers and released them at the scene. They were not injured and there were no injuries reported aboard either of the trains and charges may be filed against the driver.
“I saw the crash minutes after it happened,” said Howard Johnson of Orrock, who was driving through the area. “It’s amazing no one was hurt.”
Metro Transit dispatched replacement buses to serve customers on each of the trains involved in the accident. Buses were also dispatched to cover two additional scheduled train trips. St. Cloud Metro Bus assisted with replacement bus service effort. Customers aboard each of these trips experienced significant delays.
The evening’s final Northstar train departed Minneapolis on time, but was delayed en route and arrived about 40 minutes
The extent of damage to the trains is being evaluated. All trains returned to the operations and maintenance facility in Big Lake under their own power.
“These incidents were the first and second ever vehicle collisions in Northstar’s four-plus years of operation,” said Met. Transit spokesperson Drew Kerr.