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Two Children Killed in Durham, N.C. Train Crash

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Fox News and CBS affiliate WRAL have reported that two children were killed when an Amtrak train slammed into their vehicle.

Two children were killed and their mother injured when a train and SUV collided Wednesday evening near the intersection of Ellis Road and Angier Avenue, according to Durham Police Department spokeswoman Kammie Michael.

The Amtrak passenger train was traveling west when it struck a Ford Explorer sitting on the train tracks at 5:19 p.m. The Explorer was on the tracks when the train’s warning arms came down and was apparently blocked in by traffic, Michael said.

Two brothers in the Explorer – a 9-year-old and 6-year-old – were thrown from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene, Michael said.

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The names of the victims were not released.

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.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to this young mother, her families, friends and community. All have our heartfelt condolences following this tragic loss of life.

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.

Learn more and become a fan of Langdon & Emison on Facebook.

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UPDATE: More details available in tragic Durham, NC train crash