PEKIN — A collision between a freight train and a vehicle carrying a couple and two young children Wednesday morning left no one injured, as the family counted their blessings.
“Five more feet and it would’ve been really, really bad — two more feet,” said Denny Schwarz of Banner.
Maria Schwarz, 25, said, “The train appeared in front of me” as she drove slowly east on snow-packed Caroline Street toward freight train tracks that carried a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train north and parallel to Second Street at about 9:15 a.m.
Schwarz said she planned to stop in front of the tracks, but her older-model SUV lost traction as it struck a bump and slid about 15 feet down a slight decline in the road as the train appeared from behind a building that had blocked her view of the tracks.
Her vehicle clipped the left front of the train’s engine, tearing away its front grill and causing other damage. Schwarz, however, was able to back the vehicle away from the train as it screeched to a stop.
The long train remained stopped for damage inspection for more than two hours after the accident, blocking traffic from entering and leaving the McNaughton Bridge and at intersections with Second Street as far south as Koch Street.
Schwarz and her 37-year-old husband had crossed the bridge on their way into Pekin. Maria planned to drop her husband and children, ages 1 and 2, at her mother-in-law’s house before heading to work at a fast-food restaurant in Pekin, she said.
Denny Schwarz said they saw the train as they were leaving the bridge. It had stopped before reaching Margaret Street, “I thought for maintenance,” he said. The couple turned off onto Third Street, then doubled back using a Riverfront Park road underneath the bridge to head north to Caroline. The train, meanwhile, had resumed its travel.
Maria Schwarz said she didn’t hear the train approaching the narrow intersection “until it was too late,” but had planned to stop before crossing the tracks.
“It just appeared in front of me,” she repeated, as a tear trickled down her cheek. “As soon as I hit that bump” on the icy pavement, “I couldn’t stop.”
Crew members of the train said their employer’s rules prevent them from commenting on the accident.
Denny Schwarz said his wife was issued a ticket for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.