Fatal railroad crossing wrecks show need for safety

·3 min read

Sep. 22—Recent railroad crossing accidents in Athens illustrate the importance of motorists being alert and obeying traffic laws at train-auto intersections.

Sept. 20 through 26 has been designated as Rail Safety Week. Operation Life Saver, a nonprofit public safety organization committed to reducing the number of tragic incidents at crossings, states, "The week is designed to raise awareness of safe actions around rail crossings and railroad rights-of-way and to empower the general public to keep themselves safe when around rail property."

According to data from the Federal Railroad Administration, there have been 472 collisions highway-rail crossings in Texas since 2019.

Fresh in the minds of Athens area residents is the Jan. 25, 2019 collision involving a Union Pacific train and an Athens Independent School District bus.

A bus on a Friday afternoon run pulled into the path of a westbound train at the intersection of Cream Level Road resulting in a crash that killed a 13-year-old middle school boy and critically injured a nine-year-old girl.

The case of the 81-year-old bus driver who has been indicted for criminally negligent homicide is set to go to trial in February.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the train that collided with the bus had two engines and was 54 cars long. It had a trailing weight of almost five tons. The train pushed the bus 1,458 feet before coming to a complete stop.

The Association of American Railroads reports that it can take up to the length of 18 football fields to stop a fast moving train. The train in the Athens incident was going about 38 miles-per-hour according to FRA data.

In a 2014 incident, a 53-year-old Athens woman survived a collision at the crossing on North Wofford Street. Although her Ford F-150 was totaled, she escaped with incapacitating, but not life-threatening, injuries.

Serious injuries at railroad crossings may not involve a train. On Sept. 13, 2019, a 36-year-old man was killed when truck was rear-ended at the crossing on northwest Loop 7.

A major wreck occurred at the same spot in 2017. A 2003 Chevrolet Malibu, driven by a 23-year-old man, was westbound when it approached the railroad tracks. A 2016 Peterbilt truck pulling a tanker was parked at the crossing in the westbound lane, with its hazard lights flashing.

. The driver of the Malibu did not stop in time, and rear-ended the tanker. The Malibu driver sustained a broken leg and was transported to East Texas Medical Center for treatment of incapacitating injuries.

Federal Railroad Administration Data indicates that about every three hours someone in the U.S. is hit by a train. Trespassing along railroad rights-of-way is the leading cause of rail-related deaths in America. Railroad tracks and yards are private property, so if you are on or adjacent to tracks and not at a designated crossing, you are trespassing.

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