- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) - Teenage girls can be persistent.

Sometimes, fathers can be, too.

Soon, the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Lowndes County road department will add safety precautions at the railroad crossing on Beersheba Road in Lowndes County, about a quarter-mile from the home of John and Jane Lumsden.

MDOT will install large, light-reflective signs and remove some trees to improve visibility for motorists approaching the crossing. The county will add rumble strips on the road. Initial steps to have warning lights installed at the crossing are underway.

Those safety measures will close the book on John Lumsden’s long quest to improve safety at the crossing.

If this is John Lumsden’s story, it is Laura Lumsden’s story, too, one that dates back almost four decades to the pleasant, sunny, Tuesday morning of Feb. 17, 1976.

Laura Lumsden, a month past her 14th birthday, was on her way to school.

She never arrived.

John Lumsden, 82, sits in the living room of the home where he and Jane, who now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, raised their five children. He tells the story of that fateful day and the on-again, off-again struggle to make the railroad crossing safer that would follow.

At 7:15 a.m., John, then the owner of Lowndes County Tire Shop, was already at work. Jane, who also worked at the shop, was still at home. Laura and her friend, along with her friend’s 15-year-old brother (the driver) and another teenage boy, were driving southbound on New Hope Road when the car collided with a northbound Illinois Central freight train. The car, estimated to have been traveling at 35 mph on impact, smashed into the train, which was already in the crossing. All four teens were injured, Laura the most severely.

“I got there just in time to get into the ambulance with Laura,” John says. “I don’t know all of her injuries, but the worst injury was the head injury. Her brain was swelling. Whatever else was wrong with her didn’t matter.”

Laura never regained consciousness. She died later that day at Druid City Hospital in Tuscaloosa.

Soon after Laura’s death, safety lights were installed at the New Hope Road crossing.

There were no such safety devices on the crossing at Beersheba Road, however, which at that time was a gravel road with little traffic.

A few years later, things began to change.

The Highway 82 bypass was built and suddenly Beersheba Road became a popular alternate route between New Hope and the bypass. The road was paved, traffic picked up, and John Lumsden, still haunted by the tragedy that claimed the life of his daughter, began to worry.

Statistics show that 50 percent of all railroad collision fatalities occur in rural areas, but only 10 percent of safety devices are located in those areas.

It was only a matter of time, John thought, before that kind of tragedy would happen on Beersheba Road.

It was also on the mind of his eldest child, Lisa Holloway, who had often heard her father say how afraid he was of the railroad crossing near his home.

She began to immerse herself in material gleaned from the Internet and soon became something of a walking encyclopedia on the subject of trains, rail lines and railroad safety. She unearthed railroad records, compiled information on the types of trains and cargo carried along the railroad line that crosses Beersheba Road, noting schedules and speeds.

Armed with the data, she approached an official of Watco Companies of Kansas, the parent company of Alabama Southern Railroad, which began leasing the railroad line that crosses Beersheba Road from Kansas City Southern in 1995. She then turned her attention to MDOT and the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors.

In April, MDOT engineers agreed to do an assessment of the crossing. On May 4, John, Lisa and DeeDee addressed the county supervisors to share their story. The board voted unanimously to send a letter to MDOT asking for a traffic study and any safety enhancements that could be added right way. The board also instructed county road manager Ronnie Burns to install rumble strips on the road near the crossing.

MDOT has informed the Lumsdens that there will soon be adding safety equipment at the crossing.

“We’re so grateful,” Holloway says. “The request for a warning light has been initiated, and the prospects look good but the process does takes a while. Our family is very pleased and excited.”

It is especially satisfying for John Lumsden.

“You know, when Laura died, they put up safety devices at the New Hope Road crossing right away,” he says. “For a long time, it seemed like the only way to get that done was for somebody to get killed. It shouldn’t have to come to that. “


Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, https://www.cdispatch.com

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