Investigation underway into dangerous Pleasant Prairie railroad crossing

CREATED Aug 20, 2014 - UPDATED: Aug 20, 2014

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BRISTOL - Two serious crashes happened this summer at a dangerous railroad crossing in Pleasant Prairie. Now, the state railroad commission has opened an investigation into what went wrong and what can be done to make it safer.

Those who testified were, for the most part, in favor of seeing improvements at what they're calling a spur crossing. That's where you go over one set of railroad tracks, the main set in this case, and then you go over some more tracks almost right away.  And that can be confusing, especially at night.

When first responders pulled onto the scene back in June, they thought it was likely a fatal.  But, Juan Matias of Kenosha lived.  He'd been on his way to work on a dark, foggy night, and slammed right into a train on County Highway H.  The crossing has no gates, no flashing lights, and no audible warning, and that's what village officials want.

"I hate it in public service, when you have to say well, you're asking for that inevitable, does somebody have to die before you do something?" asked Michael Pollocoff, Pleasant Prairie Village Administrator.

Michael Pollocoff has been seeking improvements at that crossing for 20 years.  Something getting in the way is cost, about $250,000. A state railroad commission investigator testified that this particular crossing has only one train on it a day.  Would that money be better spent elsewhere?

"There could be another accident tonight at the spur track, but I'm also aware there can also be another accident at a crossing where there's 35-40 trains a day. And what are the odds?" questioned Tom Clauder, investigator with the Wisconsin Railroad Commission.

Police aren't looking at the fact that it's just one train a day on those tracks.

"It is a big deal if you're the vehicle involved in the accident and my job as public safety, my job is to look out for the residents and for the people who travel through the Village of Pleasant Prairie," said Pleasant Prairie Police Chief Dave Smetana.

But, village administrators argue, spending $250,000 on lights and crossing gates could prevent an even bigger and more costly accident, if say, a valve on one of the tanker cars was blown off.