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More Details In Tragic Durham, NC Train Crash

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CBS affiliate, WRAL, has reported additional details in the tragic railroad crossing accident that killed two young children.


Durham, N.C. — Durham police on Thursday identified two brothers who were killed and their mother, who was injured, when an Amtrak passenger train hit their SUV near the intersection of Ellis Road and Angier Avenue early Wednesday evening.

The siblings – Calvin Brandon, 9, and Hassan Bingham, 6, both of Durham – were thrown from their mother’s Ford Explorer during the crash and were pronounced dead at the scene, police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Deborah Bingham and her family. No mother should be forced to suffer such a terrible tragedy.

‘She was trying to save her children’

The Amtrak passenger train was traveling west at approximately 79 mph when it struck the right-rear quarter panel of the SUV, around 5:19 p.m.

Michael said the Explorer was apparently sitting in traffic and was trapped after the crossing’s warning arms lowered as the train approached.

In a 911 call released Thursday afternoon, a caller told the dispatcher that Bingham was trying to get off the track when the crossing arms were lowered.

"She was trying to cut through, and she tried to back up. She couldn’t. She was blocked," the caller said. "She was forced to just stay there, and the train hit her."

Eyewitnesses indicate this is a dangerous train crossing and that people have died at this crossing before.

That is not the first time that this has happened here,” Durham resident Savannah Ford said of the collision.

Ford lives near the crossing and heard the train coming toward the SUV.

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Ahmed Naji, who works at the convenience store, said there are often close calls at the crossing.

“People are going by the street and the train has the road closed, so they have no choice but to stop in the middle of the road,” Naji said.

This tragic loss of life will effect not only the family of Calvin Brandon and Hassan Bingham, but also their community and friends, particularly their schoolmates.

Principal Sylvia Bittle:

"(They) were very bright, spirited children who were very well-liked by their classmates. They touched the hearts of their teachers and me. They were hard-working, high-achieving students, and they will be greatly missed. We share in their family’s grief, and our thoughts are with them.”

According to reports, this particular railroad crossing was particularly dangerous and had killed before.


State wants to alter intersection; 11 crashes reported since 1975

Wednesday’s crash marked the 11th at the Ellis Road rail crossing since 1975, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

In 2001, Barbara Ann Dickerson, of Creedmoor, died and Janet Teasley Watson, of Durham, was injured when Teasley drove her car around the railroad crossing gates and onto the tracks where a westbound Amtrak train struck it, according the police.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has applied for stimulus money to try to put either an overpass or underpass at the intersection. Officials estimate it will cost about $13.5 million.

Why won’t the railroad fix this deadly intersection?

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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