(Cullman County, Alabama – September 8, 2015)
Safety improvements okayed months ago, but still not installed, did nothing to prevent the tragic death of a motorist after his GMC pickup truck was hit by a CSX freight train at the dangerous, unguarded and heavily tree-enshrouded crossing of Cullman County Road 605 and CSX railroad tracks about four miles north of Cullman, AL at 9:09 A.M. Tuesday morning.
David William Messersmith, 63, who lived near the crossing in the community of Hanceville, AL, was thought to be headed toward his home, which is near the ill-fated crossing, when he was killed.
“The railroad crossing was slated to get upgrades to bring it up to safety standards,” read a story by News Writer David Palmer in The Cullman Times. “However, work was yet to start months after the Cullman County Commission approved the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) proposal in March to add signs and painted lettering at the crossing. Johnny Harris, ALDOT Division 1 Engineer, said in March the project would get started within a few months,” Palmer’s story added.
Regardless of the lack of the additional safety features, aerial photos of the scene taken by and shown on WBRC-TV, Channel 6 Fox News, showed the presence of tall, fully-leafed trees lining the railroad’s corridor in both directions of highway vehicular traffic approach to the crossing, where there were no active warning devices to warn motorists of the daily average of 28 CSX trains that cross CR 605 at a top allowable speed of 50 mph, according to Federal Railroad Administration documents.
It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, this accident one would not have happened. Both CSX and Operation Lifesaver know that lights and gates are the most effective type of protection at railroad crossings. Studies that have been conducted over fifty years ago confirm that lights and gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.
The FRA records also state that, on days school is in session, a quartet of school buses cross CSX tracks via County Road 605 as they carry children to and from classes at local schools. Yet, even with the requirement for bus drivers to stop and listen for trains before crossing the tracks, the same sight-restrictive conditions make safe transit for the students under their care a most difficult task.
Two previous train/vehicular collisions at the CR 605/CSX crossing caused a total of two non-fatal injuries to be suffered by drivers and occupants of vehicles, none of them school buses.