CHICAGO (CBS) — When there is no barrier between your backyard and train tracks, whose responsibility is it when someone gets hit?

Earlier this week, 3-year-old Caleb was killed by a train, just feet away from his home in Portage, Indiana. His two-year-old sister was also hit by the train and seriously injured.

Ellie and Caleb Wilson ended up on the CSX railroad tracks near the Woodland Village mobile home park around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, even though their mother, grandfather, and grandfather’s brother were home with them at the time.

ellie and caleb wilson Residents Fight For Fence After Fatal Freight Train Incident Involving Toddlers

Ellie and Caleb Wilson, seen at ages 1 and 2 in this photo from 2017, were hit by a CSX freight train on Aug. 7, 2018. (Photo supplied to CBS)

The community along the rail line is joining a long list of others fighting to prevent the next tragedy.

CBS 2’s Audrina Bigos looked into the fights for a fence.

“We should be protecting our children from something as dangerous as a train,” stated Portage, Indiana resident Shelby Jones. “This is me standing at the end of my street and these are the tracks right here.”

A petition and plea to put up a fence near the train tracks in Portage, Indiana is growing, aimed at CSX, the company that owns the tracks where a freight train hit three-year-old Caleb and his two-year-old sister Ellie.

Portage Police say they snuck out of their house.

“I do think a fence would have prevented this,” said Jones. “Children don’t know any better. They run, they dart. It happened to me, it happened to everyone. There needs to be a fence.”

“It’s a tricky problem,” responded David Clarke, an expert witness in railroad accident cases at the Center for Transportation Research. CBS 2’s Audrina Bigos asked him where he believes the responsibility lies when a tragedy like the one earlier this week occurs.

“In a lot of cases, you don’t see that anything was done,” said Clarke.

In one local case, something was done but it wasn’t until after a tragedy.

“This is actually a memorial we did for Kristen Bowen,” said Tiffany Davis, a resident who fought for a fence near train tracks in Villa Park.

14-year-old Kristen Bowen was hit and killed by a train in West suburban Villa Park in 2006. After her death, Tiffany Jones rallied for change.

Jones helped start petitions and fundraisers, fighting in her friend’s memory for a fence near the tracks.

“There’s lots of hoops you have to go through. It takes an army,” she said.

Eventually, Union Pacific agreed to build 1,500 feet of fencing along the track, a cost of $6,700 paid, in full, by Union Pacific.

Just down the street in Elmhurst, the tracks near West Avenue are also a so-called “hot spot.”

“You’ve got a school. They have fencing along their property, but the fence ends,” said Chip Pew of Operation Lifesaver. “So the kids get out of school and cross the tracks. Along the 7,400 miles of Illinois right away, you have just open access.”

In 2017, 46 people walking across unauthorized parts of the track were hit by trains in Illinois. 20 of them did not survive, ranking Illinois 7th in the nation for “trespass deaths.”

The railroads legal responsibility is often limited. Regulations say anyone walking on the track is a trespasser.

“If you have a routine and frequent trespassing problem somewhere, like this, it’s not a matter of if someone will get [hurt,] it’s when,” said Pew.

“There’s nothing going to be done about it unless CSX makes a change,” said Jones.

The city of Portage says it appears there’s “no legal way” for the city to mandate or enforce a fence.

CSX says “typically municipalities, developers, or private property owners choose to build a barrier.”

CBS 2 reached out to the owner of the mobile home park in Portage where the incident occurred, but he did not return our calls.

 

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