Collision at Downtown Train Crossing

Train and CarAn Amtrak train hit a car at the 2nd Street crossing this afternoon, Henry Graff reports for NBC 29. The car was dragged about 100 feet and, luckily, nobody was hurt. The driver says that the crossing arm hadn’t come down, while the train’s engineer says that it did. The driver has been charged with failure to obey a railroad crossing signal. Amtrak trains are generally going pretty slowly at that spot, because they’re so close to the station. (I used to live on South and 1st, with an apartment directly over the tracks.) There are several thousand such accidents each year.

I can’t help but feel a bit skeptical of Amtrak’s claim that the gate was down. Like many people, I read Walt Bogdanich’s 2004 “Death on the Tracks” series in the New York Times, for which he won a Pulitzer. Bogdanich revealed that rail crossing guards are routinely broken, engineers routinely lie and claim that they were working fine, and the railroads send out repairman to fix the problem faster than federal inspectors can arrive. There are hundreds of such fatal accidents every year, dozens of which aren’t ever reported to the National Response Center.

Photo kindly provided by “gman.”

15 thoughts on “Collision at Downtown Train Crossing”

  1. I know that rail crossing guards can be faulty and I know that there would be ample reason for cover-up by the train company, but I used to go by several train crossings while in college and I have to go by one to and from my way home and I can say without a doubt that I’ve seen more people disregard and go around the crossing guards (several) than I’ve seen crossing guards not working (none… ever).

    In fact, the only malfunctioning I’ve EVER seen with regards to rail crossing guards is a false positive in that the guard rail and/or signal is active with no train.

    Also, if the driver was not at fault, why didn’t he speak to the media? Seems like a good way to state your case that the crossing guard was not working.

    And lastly, as was mentioned in the original post, the Amtrak is going quite slow at that point on the rail. Did the guy COMPLETELY miss the ridiculously loud train whistle?

    Personally, having seen the exact scenario several times, I think the guy stopped at the crossing guard, saw how slow the train was moving, and figured he wasn’t going to wait and thought he could beat the train. In every instance I’ve seen, the driver did beat the train. Maybe this guy just wasn’t as lucky.

  2. In most companies, employees are expressly forbidden to speak to the media, upon pain of immediate termination. If the driver were to speak to the media, all he would probably be allowed to say is “you can contact our media relations department at (800)XXX-XXXX.” The fact that he did not speak to the media has no impact on his innocence or guilt.

  3. I do not think Amtrak really cares about what happend as long as it was not their fault. They rent the use of the tracks from CSX or some other huge corp. So if the signal was not working blame CSX, or if the driver ran the gate, they are at fault. I do not see some huge Amtrak Conspiracy at work here

  4. CSX sold that line in a (likely) scam to keep using it but avoid regs. It’s called Buckingham Branch. (Definitely) the new company got a fantastic state subsidy for small railroads, almost the whole available pie that year, as I recall from a C-Ville/Hook article.

    Anyway I used to walk across there a lot at 2nd. St. and one day the arm was not working. Being a good citizen I looked for the phone number to report it, on a sticker. It was out of date, I think I had to call 411 or something.

    People get hit every day by trains at their own fault, but that’s no reason to ignore the NYT story and assume the big boys are smothering us in benevolence. That’s the kind of authority worship that made R Guiliani & GW Bush seem like “heroes” just for being awake after 9/11.

  5. For the record, I’m not taking sides here. I’m just saying that a) the story may not end here b) gates have a history of not working c) railroads have a history of lying about it.

  6. Were the lights flashing or have they been removed? It’s been years since I’ve driven on that street.

  7. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a train whistle at the Amtrak station while sitting at the Wild Wing restaurant.. seems that the proximity of the Fifeville neighborhood would discourage regular whistles.

    Does anyone remember when the Carlton Rd crossing didn’t even have gates? Lights, yes, but no gate. That was scary.

  8. I seem to remember hearing (maybe on a newscast on the CBS affiliate?) that the guy started to cross as the gate was coming down and the gate hit his car as he was going under it. Not sure if this is true…

    Still, I have to wonder about anyone who would drive across those tracks at that point without being aware there was a train coming.

  9. I have to agree, Andrew. The first series of X’s below is the train parked behind the Water Street parking garage. The next X was me crossing the tracks at 2rd Street, S.E.. The third X was the crashed car resting beside the train tracks. And the last X was the 1st Street South crossing where the tow truck was sitting and winching the car to get it out to 1st Street. Even at 2nd Street, S.E. where I was crossing the tracks the noise was so loud you had to hear the train even if you were blind. And the earth was shaking from the locomotive running. You could feel the train even if you couldn’t see or hear it. UNLESS, the stereo in the car was cranked up terribly high.


    (A stereo being cranked up real loud in a car seems to be a phenonmenon police vehicles still can’t understand. With the high power stereo systems in cars and trucks nowadays, people can’t see or hear them coming when they take the right of way at the last second. This is why they need to slow down and look both ways in an intersection whether they have a red or green light! If you watch closely you will see rescue vehicles and fire department vehicles do exactly this, slow down and look both ways. Police cars very seldom do.)

  10. Even if the sign thingy was busted, how can you not hear the train coming even if it’s not blowing its horn? It’s way loud and vibratey man!

  11. Pretty crazy all around. I have 3 pictures I took as I was walking to ACAC at the time of the accident, just before 2:00PM yesterday. It appeared the driver did not speak English, because it looked like the cop was using her arm to describe the crossing guard coming down. The guard rails were down. Not exactly sure how the car got hit, but it must have been in the front before the driver side door because the driver was able to get out of the car uninjured, and the car remained on the north side of the tracks after the accident. Waldo, I’ll send you pics for the site if you want.

  12. The Amtrak conductors I’ve seen (and I live right over in the complex behind the station) are extremely careful in that little area. While walking, I’ve stood at the lowered gate and have had conductors and stop wave my by more than once. It makes me laugh sometimes…a big train yielding to little ol’ me as I scurry across the road, but it makes me think those guys are hyper conscious of people crossing in front of them in the downtown area and don’t want to risk hitting anyone.

    Just my two cents…I’m sure we’ll hear more details soon.

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