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 newsobserver.com, 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.
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.