(Moundville, Alabama January 12, 2016)
A beloved 21-year-old Moundville, AL mother of a two-year-old boy and 18-month-old daughter was killed at approximately 6:30 A.M., EST Thursday morning when her SUV was struck by a Norfolk Southern Freight train at the dangerous, unguarded and heavily obscured crossing of Tuscaloosa County Road 74 (Upper Hull Road) just outside of Moundville. The freight train consisted of 38 rail cars powered by three locomotives.
The entire Moundville community was mourning the death of Savanna Smith after the train struck the passenger side of her SUV, ejected her, and then dragged it several yards before casting it aside, where it burst into flames. Law enforcement officers said Smith was on her way to pick up one of her children at the time.
The road/rail intersection where the tragedy occurred is on a dip in the highway, and is surrounded by tree foliage as well as partially obscured by structures a short distance down the tracks. This track accommodates as many as 25 NS and Amtrak trains daily at a maximum speed of 79 mph, is equipped only with a pair of passive railroad cross-buck signs, lacking both flashing lights and crossing gates, facts pointed out by local news media.
Also lacking was any reference to or accident history of the crossing in files kept on railroad crossings nationwide by the Federal Railroad Administration. Information had to be obtained via adjacent crossings along the same corridor. Both Norfolk Southern 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%.