(Maxwell, Nebraska – May 22, 2014)
About 32 Union Pacific officials, directors and support staff got an “up close and personal” view of the danger imposed by unguarded railroad crossings on high-speed, multiple track and heavily-used railroad lines at about 9:00 A.M. Thursday morning at the crossing of Springs Road and triple main line UPRR tracks just two miles west of Maxwell, NE. The crossing is equipped only with standard, passive railroad cross-buck signs even though nearly 100 trains pass through the corridor daily.
Union Pacific’s “Centennial Special” had just left after an overnight stay in North Platte, NE when it struck the trailer of an 18-wheeler hauling cattle to a feed lot. The driver of the cattle truck, which had 63 head of cattle on board, 14 of which were killed on impact and another 10 of which received various injuries, had crossed the triple tracks and was awaiting traffic to clear on the parallel U.S. 30 Highway when the train, consisting of a locomotive and about a half-dozen vintage, streamlined passenger rail cars, operating in 70 mph-maximum speed territory, slammed into the portion of the occupied trailer that was still hanging over the tracks. According to Federal Railroad Administration records, the Thursday accident was the fourth to occur at that particular grade crossing.
Lincoln County Sheriff’s Dept. Sgt. Wayne Connell said that the driver, Christopher Montanez, an employee of CCM Trucking, looked before crossing the tracks, but did not see the lights of the approaching train. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both Union Pacific and Operation Lifesaver know 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 distance for vehicular storage between the UPRR tracks and U.S. 30 was reduced several years ago when Union Pacific added the third main track to parallel the already-existing double track line.
One of the officials aboard the train, UPRR Public Relations Manager Aaron Hunt, who normally answers news media inquiries from his California office rather than on the ground at the scene of accidents told KNOP-TV news channel 2’s Beatriz Reyna that, “We are highly trained at responding to incidents like this and we really think about safety first. I didn’t have any other sensation. I was really just thinking of the driver and the safety of my fellow employees,” Hunt continued. “At crossing accidents like these, it could be very impactful emotionally and psychologically for our train crews.”
The UP PR executive went on to say that “Our focus is safety first. We really work hard to reduce crossing accidents like this. This is as much of an emphasis at the grassroots level as it is from our senior leadership,” he added.
“Even one incident like this is one too many,” concluded Hunt.