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Malfunctioning Railroad Crossing Signals Cause Deadly North Carolina Train Crash

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Several sources — including the Associated Press, The Herald-Sun, and Fox News — have reported that there has been another deadly Amtrak train crash in North Carolina.

EFLAND — Safety equipment intended to protect motorists from oncoming trains has been malfunctioning for years, residents and workers of this small town said following Tuesday morning’s double fatality at the railroad crossing where Forrest and Mount Willing roads intersect.

"A lot of times they’re down and people just go around them because they bounce up and down all the time," said Sherry Utsman of Efland, who was filling orders at Missy’s Grill just down the street from the collision scene. "People pay attention to the cross arms, but they get comfortable to it being broke and they just go around it."

"I see people up there working on them, but I don’t know if they can’t fix them or what’s going on with it because it happens often," Utsman said.

"I’ve been living here at least 11 years and they mess up all the time," said Christopher Thompson of Efland, who was also on duty at Missy’s Grill. "The lights will blink sometimes, and sometimes the arms come down" even though there is no train coming.

"I’ve been there, too, when you just have to guess and go" whether a train is coming because the cross-arms are acting up, Thompson said.

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Erin Brett Lindsay-Calkins, 26, of 104 Virginia Lee Lane, which is off High Rock Road several miles northwest of Efland, and her 5-year-old son, Nicholas Aden Lindsay, were killed in the collision with Amtrak’s Carolinian 80 passenger train at 10:24 a.m. Four-month-old Avan Brooke Lindsay was transported to UNC Hospitals.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Lindsay-Calkins family and four-month old Avan Brooke Lindsay, who survived the crash. This tragic loss of life will not only affect the Lindsay-Calkins family, but also their neighbors, community and friends. No family should suffer such a tragic loss, especially during the Christmas season.

Residents indicated that this was a particularly dangerous railroad crossing with a history of safety equipment malfunctions.

Why won’t the railroad fix this deadly intersection?

Does the railroad company get to play by a different set of rules than you or me? If we callously left a dangerous condition on our property, wouldn’t we be held accountable when someone got hurt or killed? The public — individuals, families, neighbors and communities — should demand that railroad companies keep their crossings safe.

Railroad companies are responsible making sure their train crossings are safe. That means the crossings have proper sight lines and visibility that allow drivers to see approaching trains, that trees and vegetation are cut back, that railroads do not park trains near the crossing (that would confuse drivers), that signals and gates are working properly, and that train crews sound a warning with the train’s horn or whistle as the train is approaching.

These train-vehicle collisions are a tragic reminder of how dangerous railroad crossings can be. In the last 10 years, there have been more than 30,000 railroad crossing accidents and more than 3,600 train accident deaths.

These train accidents can have many causes, including:

  • Failure of the railroad company to install proper warnings, such as lights, alarms (crossing bells) or a functioning crossing gate

  • Defective warnings — inoperable lights, bells or gates

  • Improper sight lines that prevent a vehicle’s driver from seeing an oncoming train until it is too late

  • Failure to properly maintain the crossing — such as allowing overgrown trees, vegetation and other foliage to obstruct or hide an oncoming train

  • Improperly parking a train at or near a crossing — this not only hides an oncoming train from view, but gives motorists a false sense of safety in seeing a parked train at the crossing

  • Failure to sound the train’s horn or whistle at or near the crossing

  • Other negligence that may appear on the train’s data recorder or video recorder

It takes a skilled team of investigators and experts to identify critical information.

Railroad companies need to do more to prevent these tragic collisions that kill. Unfortunately, some railroad companies attempt to cover up their role in causing these tragedies rather than implement safety improvements to prevent them.

In October, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad was hit with a $4 million penalty — on top of a $21.6 million jury verdict — because of its "staggering" pattern of misconduct that included destroying evidence in an attempted cover-up of its role in the deaths of four young people who were killed at one of its railroad crossings.

The Court found that BNSF destroyed some evidence, fabricated other evidence, interfered with the investigation and purposefully lied and advanced misleading facts in order to conceal the truth.

Railroad companies should be held accountable for dangerous railroad crossings that injure and kill. Is there a different set of rules for railroad companies than for everyone else? Railroad companies need to stop putting profits in front safety.

You can learn more about how to protect yourself at railroad crossings by visiting our railroad safety blog or web site.

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