Former University employee dies in light rail’s first car-and-train accident

Hilmer Iverson, 87, was killed when he drove his car under the safety rail.

Emily Kaiser

Three months after the first phase of the Hiawatha light rail line opened, the first car-and-train accident occurred Saturday afternoon. The wreck killed the car’s driver, who was identified as 87-year-old Hilmer Iverson.

Iverson was a former University employee, The Associated Press reported.

Bob Gibbons, spokesman for Metro Transit, said Iverson was driving south on Hiawatha Avenue. He attempted to turn right onto 42nd Street. The train was traveling north when Iverson drove under the safety rail and into the path of the train.

“(The driver of the train’s) initial report to his supervisor was that he was approaching the intersection and the intersection was clear,” Gibbons said. “The safety arms were down and he was accelerating through the intersection, and before he knew it, the car was in front of him.”

The train hit the driver’s side of Iverson’s vehicle. The light rail car was going approximately 40 mph and killed Iverson on impact. He was the only person in the car.

Reports from witnesses said Iverson was driving very slowly down Hiawatha Avenue and did not appear to be in any rush to beat the train, Gibbons said.

The 40 passengers on the train were not injured. A bus came to replace the train and brought passengers to their destinations.

Sherry Glatte and Dale Jore, who live near the intersection, stood at their alley driveways watching the event unfold. They said they expected this to happen.

“We hear people slam on their brakes in this intersection every day,” Jore said.

Glatte said the intersection has been very unsafe since the light rail began operating. The trains should have been built over – rather than along – the roads, she said.

Residents of the neighborhood were out in large numbers, lining the sidewalks as Metro Transit police removed Iverson’s body and mangled car from the scene.

George Isaacs, a long-time proponent of the light rail line, arrived at the scene after the accident occurred. He said Metro Transit has done a “fantastic” job protecting and warning drivers about the dangers of light rail.

“Compliance from drivers has been excellent, but you will always have a cheater,” Isaacs said.

Isaacs said Metro Transit should think about installing cameras in the intersections to catch people breaking the rules.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, District 4, arrived at the scene after a friend told him what happened. McLaughlin lives along the light rail line and has been continually supportive of the project.

“You hope and pray this day never comes,” he said. “There is always some danger in a major intersection, and the trains make it more complicated.”

McLaughlin said that if the driver went under the safety rail, the accident was unavoidable.

Metro Transit has several safety systems in place to warn and protect motorists in the intersections, Gibbons said. When a train is approaching, white lights begin to flash, followed by a loud bell and safety arms.

Despite the warnings, Gibbons said, there is still an issue with motorists driving through the safety arms.

“The gate arms are designed to essentially break away,” Gibbons said. “They are designed not to be barriers.”

Gibbons said several dozen arms have been broken since operation began.

Light rail service stopped for more than two hours after the accident, and buses replaced trains along the route. Light rail trains resumed service later in the afternoon.

Glatte said people should be more cautious near the light rail intersections.

Looking toward the scene and shaking her head, Glatte said the accident is a reminder to take advantage of every day.

“I bet he didn’t think when he woke up this morning that he would be lying out there in the sun,” she said.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.