A safer crossing
Twenty years ago - on the morning of November 16, 1990 - every parent's worst nightmare came true in Miltona.
Shortly before 7:30 a.m., a Soo Line train collided with a District 206 school bus at the railroad crossing in downtown Miltona.
Two people were killed - the bus driver, Fred "Bud" Beman and one student, 9-year-old Kristian Rindahl of Carlos.
The other 21 students on the bus, most of them teenagers in junior and senior high school, were taken to the Douglas County Hospital. Three of them suffered serious injuries that required hospitalization.
An investigation showed that the train and the bus met at the intersection at the same instant. The right front corner of the train struck the left front corner of the school bus.
Although the crash happened 20 years ago, it's still painfully real for the Rindahl family. "I remember it like it was yesterday," said Kristian's father, Lyle, when contacted by the newspaper on Monday. "It was the worst day ever for our family."
As devastating as the crash was, it could have been much worse. As reported by the Lake Region Echo back then, if the collision would have happened a split second later, the train would have hit in the middle of the bus, causing many more fatalities.
The bus could have also been carrying a lot more students. According to school officials, 43 students were eligible to ride on School Bus 24. Fortunately, only about half of them chose to ride the bus that day.
An investigation determined that the bus driver activated his lights and slowed down but didn't come to a complete stop at the crossing. Other factors may have also contributed to the crash. A window corner post inside the bus, a large side-mounted mirror or the terrain of the area itself may have obstructed the bus driver's view of the oncoming train, according to newspaper reports about the investigation.
The tragic event triggered outrage and concern among local residents as to why the intersection didn't have crossing arms or flashing lights. Two years earlier, in December 1988, three people from Eagle Bend - Vicki Coyer and her parents, Myra and Lester Coyer - died at the same crossing when their vehicle was struck by a train.
Within days of the school bus crash, the Douglas County Board and the Miltona City Council worked together to request the Minnesota Department of Transportation to install additional safety measures at the crossing.
In August 1991, automatic crossing gates and flashing warning lights were installed, making the railroad crossing much safer than it was on November 16, 1990.
The events that unfolded 20 years ago also serve as a potent reminder of how important it is before crossing the tracks to stop, look and listen for oncoming trains.