(Evans City, Pennsylvania – April 26, 2013)
Whether or not a dense fog in the Butler County, PA area at about 8:10 A.M. Friday morning was a factor, the lack of active protective devices certainly was, as a minibus carrying 10 developmentally-challenged adults ranging in age from 19 to 92 collided with a Buffalo & Pittsburgh train on trackage owned by and leased from CSX at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of Maple Avenue and CSX/B&P rails in Evans City, PA.
The driver and 10 occupants were either flown by helicopter or transported by ground ambulance to at least four Pittsburgh, PA-area hospitals for injuries that ranged from life-threatening to serious after their bus either struck or was struck by the train carrying black asphalt-laden tank cars, spun around, dragged a short distance, and left along the railroad tracks with heavy damage to its frame and body.
The 60-year-old driver, who was among the injured, may have been unsure of his proximity to the tracks, as the train crew alleged that the vehicle pulled forward and stopped on the tracks. After striking and dragging the bus, the train finally came to a halt about 100 yards beyond the point of impact.
“It was pretty chaotic and a pretty severe impact,” Evans City Chief of Police Joe McCombs told assembled news media at a post-crash press conference held at the site. “There was a major intrusion on the one side of the bus.”
Neither the driver nor any of the passengers or train crew members was specifically identified by name, but police confirmed there were eight men and three women among the injured.
There was no record of any previous accidents at the crossing, which is on tracks leased from CSX by the Genesee & Wyoming regional and short-line railroad conglomerate that owns and operates the approximately 400-mile long B&PRR. The FRA says only two trains daily pass over the crossing at a top allowable speed of 25 mph.
The railroad industry has long plaudited the value of active warning devices such as flashing lights, bells and crossing gates, even though it has been alleged the use of such could prevent over 90% of tragedies such as occurred in Pennsylvania Friday morning. The industry also refuses to accept responsibility for protecting travelers on highways from the dangers posed by trains.
The minibus, operated by the Butler Area Rural Transit authority, was carrying its 10 passengers to a program called “Lifesteps”, a non-profit agency which provides “services for children, families, adults with special needs and seniors, designed to encourage growth, independence, confidence and dignity.”
The BART transit agency partners with the Alliance for Nonprofit Resources, a social service agency based in the Butler County seat in order to provide reduced-fee transportation for people with disabilities.
Both Evans City Police and troopers from the Pennsylvania State Police were investigating the tragedy.