In March, we wrote about a dangerous problem plaguing pedestrians here in Sacramento. The city’s numerous light-rail train lines frequently intersect roads and places where pedestrians travel. Due to a combination of factors, including distraction, fatal pedestrian accidents involving light-rail trains are tragically common. Of the approximately 154 people struck by trains in California last year, nearly two-thirds died.
Light-rail accidents are part of a larger trend of collisions at “grade crossings,” where train tracks and roads intersect one another at the same level. California and numerous other states have experienced fatal train-automobile accidents due to either inadequate safety measures at grade crossings or automobiles that dangerously stop on train tracks.
An example of the latter occurred in March in North Carolina. The driver of an oversized tractor-trailer had apparently got his vehicle stuck on the tracks while trying to navigate a left turn. An Amtrak train ended up colliding with the tractor-trailer, leading to derailment and injuries to 55 people.
In a somewhat rare move, a lawsuit was filed not by the owners of the smaller vehicle but by Amtrak and CSX, which owns the section of track where the accident occurred. According to witnesses, the truck driver spent between 15 and 20 minutes gingerly moving back and forth in the crossing, apparently worried about the load he was carrying. When the crossing arms finally came down, the driver allegedly jumped out of his truck and left it there to be struck by the train. According to the lawsuit, the trucker did not attempt to notify either Amtrak or CSX about the fact that he was blocking the track.
Grade crossings are inherently dangerous even when proper warning systems have been installed. While railroad negligence is often to blame in train-automobile collisions, this case shows that drivers are sometimes at fault.
Source: Insurance Journal, “Amtrak, CSX File Suit Against Truck Company Over North Carolina Train Crash,” Jonathan Drew, May 4, 2015