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CBS News affiliate, WRAL, has reported that Michael Lindsay-Calkins, who lost his wife and child in a tragic train collision, has spoken publicly about the train crash.

Erin Brett Lindsay-Calkins, 26, and her five-year-old son, Nicholas, died when their vehicle struck by an Amtrak train after witnesses said the crossing signals had malfunctioned.

"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.

Following this tragic railroad crossing accident, the North Carolina Department of Transportation said it would conduct a review of railroad crossing safety across the state.

“North Carolina is in the top 15 states nationwide for crossing collisions,” said Carol Steckbeck, with the non profit Operation Lifesaver; a group dedicated to reducing collisions, injuries and fatalities at rail crossings.

She says that statistic is frightening, especially when you look at the national trend for railroad crossing accidents.

Despite the eye witness accounts, Norfolk Southern — the giant train corporation responsible for the tracks and the crossing — said that the crossing signals were in working order at the time of the collision. Norfolk Southern and South Carolina DOT officials said they were not aware of any problems at the crossing.

Despite Norfolk Southern’s denials, news sources have identified at least 11 separate calls warning the railroad company about malfunctions in the crossing signals at this very intersection.

EFLAND — In the past year, Norfolk Southern received 11 calls reporting problems with the railroad crossing where a young mother and her 5-year-old son were struck and killed by a train Tuesday.

According to, several residents said the warning lights and caution bar at the Mount Willing Road railroad crossing malfunctioned routinely, to the point that one woman who works in a nearby office kept the railroad company’s phone number and the railroad crossing’s ID number on a sticky note at her desk.

Said one resident, "Everybody around here knows that is a horrible intersection."

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Lindsay and Calkin families. I cannot image the heartache felt by those who knew and loved Erin and Nicholas.

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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  1. Gravatar for Don Carrington

    Could it be, Mr. Emison, that you have a vested interest in casting as much doubt as possible about the "giant train corporation" responsibly maintaining the safety systems at their crossings?

    Without argument, this is a tragic, heartbreaking and needless loss of life.

    Your blog should take a balanced approach -- one that helps people understand the risk of crossing railroad tracks and approaching trains.

    Yes, the railroads have a responsibility to properly maintain equipment at crossings. But the users of these crossings must be taught their responsibility in using them as well.

  2. Gravatar for Brett Emison

    Mr. Carrington -- I do not know the Lindsay-Calkins family and I do not represent them as their attorney.

    If by "vested" interest you mean a "financial" interest, then I have no "vested" interest in this claim.

    I do have a human interest in this claim. I have a human interest in making sure that the corporations responsible for making these crossings safe actually do what they are supposed to do and actually make these crossings safe.

    If you look through my previous posts, you'll find posts like these;; and warning drivers to be careful at railroad crossings.

    However, these giant railroad companies making billions from moving massive locomotives across city streets and near schools need to make sure that their railroad crossings are safe.

    Unfortunately, many railroad companies do not. Instead, they refuse to make any safety additions unless the government pays for it and try to cover up their involvement in railroad crossing deaths like Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad did in Minnesota (

    Railroad companies have a responsbility to make sure their crossings are safe. We all need to make sure they do it before someone else is injured or killed.

  3. Gravatar for Geoff Spoker

    Give me a break, no interest? You and other ambulance chasers love to characterize yourselves as champions of the downtrodden against the big bad corporations. What a sham. You're as authentic and real as Pamela Anderson's breasts. All form, no substance. God gave us all necks that swivel so we can look both directions before moving forward. Guess it's too much to ask for people to be responsible for their actions when there's plenty of ambulance chasing champions around.

  4. Gravatar for Brett Emison

    Geoff -- I thank you for taking the time to comment, but must admit that I am a bit shocked by the degree of your distrust and skepticism.

    I understand that words written here will do little to change your mind or your opinion of me. However, we have not met and, with all due respect, you do not know me, sir.

    I assure you that I am no ambulance chaser. I take great pride in the work I do helping people. Each of my clients has been catestrophically injured or worse: brain damaged, paralyzed, burned, broken or killed. Each of my clients is thankful I was there to help.

    I help real people present their case to a jury of their peers and help them to try to get back to as normal a life as possible. None of my clients asked to be injured or killed. None of them deserved it, either.

    Responsibility is the cornerstone of our society. Did you know in every trial, the jury compares the fault of the plaintiff against the fault of the defendant? In some states, if the plaintiff is even 1% at fault, he takes nothing from his claim. In other states, if the plaintiff is more than 50% at fault, he takes nothing. In all states, the compensation awarded is reduced by the amount of the plaintiff's fault (or his personal responsibility). Personal responsibility is considered in every single case tried across the country.

    But what about corporate responsibility? The railroad runs massive locomotives more than a mile long across city streets and near schools... making billions of dollars in the process.

    What about the railroad's responsibility to make sure its crossings are safe? What about the railroad's responsibility to make sure the crossing gates work? What about the railroad's responsible to ensure a safe means to cross in order to get to school?

    I am surprised to see ordinary people consistently come down on the side of those that would take advantage of regular people. I wonder about the marketing messages that have convinced you that I am a greedy ambulance chaser and the railroad company that won't fix defecting crossing signals or mow down vegetation blocking the crossing is the benevolent actor.

    Our goal should be the same: to make sure everyone -- the public and corporations -- work to make sure these crossings are safe and no one else is injured or killed.

    Thank you again for reading and taking the time to comment. I enjoy and encourage a spirited debate.

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