[Chippewa Falls resident Laurel] Norlander's crash was the first of 60 crashes between trains and highway users in 2013, the highest number Wisconsin has seen in five years. Injuries are at a six-year high, at 21. In addition, there were three deaths.Yes. Treat railroad crossings as if your life depended on it.
One possible factor in the rise is increased train traffic in the state, a result of recent booms in sand mining in Wisconsin and crude oil from shale in North Dakota.
Products of the state's sand mining operations, which have grown from a handful in 2010 to well over 100, are used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process for extracting oil and natural gas. Crude oil, some of which passes by rail through Wisconsin, has similarly exploded. According to the American Association of Railroads, railroads nationwide transported 9,500 carloads of crude in 2008. In 2012, that number jumped to 234,000, and the most recent estimates for 2013 are around 400,000.
Trains on the tracks where Norlander was struck used to be few and far between, Norlander said, but a new sand plant in town has changed that.
"There's been quite an increase in train traffic," she said.
Jeff Plale, the state's commissioner of railroads, said it seemed as if trains and cars were crashing every time he turns around.
"We have more trains going through the state, they're heavier, they're longer. Stop playing with the trains," he said. "I'm just tired of it, because these (accidents) are so preventable."
Plale said that besides increased train traffic, some railroad tracks that weren't in use have been revived, so people aren't accustomed to seeing the trains.
"All of a sudden you've gone from having no trains or very few, and now you have a whole bunch of them. It's a matter of being cognizant and safe," he said.
Railroad employees know to expect trains at any time, on any track, in either direction. Sometimes motorists have to relearn the rule the hard way.