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Brett Emison
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More Railroad Crossing Crashes Highlight Need For Safety Improvements

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I reported a few weeks ago about the thousands of unguarded railroad crossings in Missouri. Railroad crossing crashes keep happening across the country and highlighting the need for railroad companies to properly guard their crossings and stop needless injuries and deaths.

News 14 Carolina reported that two people were hospitalized after a train crashed into a tractor trailer. Injury Board member Lawrence Egerton also reported on the crash.

From Statesville.com:

A train plowed right through a tractor trailer that had apparently gotten stuck on the tracks in Rowan County on Monday morning, just east of the Iredell County line.

The truck’s driver was then pulled from the burning vehicle to safety by three fast-thinking men.

***

The driver, whose identity was not immediately released, was taken to Iredell Memorial Hospital before being transferred to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. His condition was unknown as of press time.

In a separate crash, a Sallisaw, Oklahoma man died when a Union Pacific train crashed into his vehicle at a railroad crossing. You can view the KHBS-TV news report of the crash here.

From the KHBS report:

Sallisaw Police Chief Shaloa Edwards said a Union Pacific train crossing near Shiloh Road and Cherokee Avenue hit [a] 77-year-old man . . . Sunday afternoon.

"We’ve had way too many accidents here," said Sherry Gilmore, [the victim’s] friend and a Sallisaw resident.

The only warning near the train crossing is a pair of stop signs.

***

Edwards said emergency responders pulled [the victim] from his flipped truck and administered CPR, but were unable to revive him.

"He was going to feed his horses, and that was his life," Gilmore said. She said she’ll remember her friend most for the love and passion he put into his championship horses.

Gilmore lives near the Shiloh Road train crossing and said despite efforts to make it safe, it isn’t.

"I mean the stop signs helped, but they’re not adequate," she said. "They just put these stop signs up about three years ago, and it has just not solved the problem."

Gilmore said on many days the sun blocks drivers ability to see if a train is coming. She wants cross arms and warning lights that are seen at other train crossings, particularity those downtown.

Sallisaw City Manager Bill Baker said the U.S. Department of Transportation usually teams with cities to install cross arms and warnings lights, but action is typically hard to come by.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by these tragedies. It is heartbreaking that these crashes did not have to happen.

Railroad crossing crashes are a tragic, preventable problem across the country. Railroad companies need to do more to ensure that their railroad tracks and crossing protect approaching motorists. Railroads need to start putting safety first.

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.

Missouri has been one of the top 10 deadliest states for railroad crossing crashes. But the problem is not limited to Missouri. Too many people are being killed by freight trains and passenger trains across the country because railroad companies, like Union Pacific and BNSF, refuse to take responsibility for protecting motorists from their massive trains.

In April, a young man was killed when a train struck his vehicle near Wichita, Kansas.

In March, a Baldwin City, Kansas woman was seriously injured when her vehicle was struck by a train near Wellsville, Kansas.

In February, a Casa Grande, Arizona dentist was killed and another person injured in a violent train crash near Florence, Arizona. The railroad crossing in that crash was not protected by any flashing lights or gates. It may have been difficult or even impossible for the driver to see that a train was coming.

In January, railroad crossing collision killed a woman in Gulfport, Mississippi. News reports indicated that railroad crossing was not properly designed suggested that the driver stopped at the railroad crossing, but could not see the oncoming train and began to cross as her vehicle was struck.

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

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. How many people have to die before the railroads finally accept responsibility for protecting their own railroad crossings?

You can learn more at our safety blog and become a fan of Langdon & Emison on Facebook.