(Chattanooga, Tennessee and Dade County, Georgia)
A single stretch of Norfolk Southern railroad tracks only five minutes, but two counties and states apart, has residents and officials concerned after two wrecks occurred in less than 24 hours. In the first incident, the driver was stuck on the tracks at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of Carroll Road and the NS Railway in Dade County, GA and was killed Wednesday afternoon at bout 4:20 P.M. In the second incident, the driver of an 18-wheeler barely escaped death, but not serious injury, Thursday morning at the dangerous, non-gated crossing of Old Wauhatchie Pike and the same NS railroad line on the other side of the Georgia/Tennessee state line in Chattanooga, TN., when his loaded trailer was split in two by an oncoming NS coal train.
On Wednesday, Alvin Yount, 80, of Chattanooga, TN, became trapped by traffic on Carroll Road, just across the Tennessee line in Dade County, GA, only to have his white Chevrolet pickup truck crushed from the passenger’s side and carried down the tracks between a quarter and three-tenths of a mile before the train, which was traveling at 35 mph, could get stopped.
Dade County Sheriff Ray Cross told WDEF-TV Reporter James Mahon that “Bystanders say the guy did not see or hear the train coming, and the train struck him on the passenger side.” The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
Yount’s daughter, Elisa Bohon Yount Wilson, confirmed that her father “was not trying to beat the train,” and commented to WRCB-TV that “We have tried on several occasions to get some type of lights or cross arms at this site,” adding that “This is the fifth accident at this same location in less than 20 years, but GA DOT would not assist in funding because there had not been a fatality. Maybe our tragedy will make GA DOT re-think their decision,” but lamented that “It’s a bit late for us now.”
Ms. Wilson’s information on the crossing’s accident history was proven correct by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), whose records indicate that the Wednesday accident was the only one of the five to incur a fatality, but another of the incidents resulted in injury to three occupants of a vehicle hit by a train in 1999, and that the most recent collision prior to Wednesday’s was on July 29 , 2013.
The NS/Carroll Road crossing is not equipped with any active warning devices, such as lights and gates.
Dade County Commissioner Ted Rumley was called to the scene by a concerned citizen, upset that the stopped train was blocking the crossing and preventing access to residences on the opposite side of the tracks, who later turned out to be the victim’s daughter, but who was unaware at the time that the reason for the train being stopped was an accident, and that the victim was her father. The commissioner’s initial observation was that the accident was “just a bad thing; Just a bad, bad thing.”
When he learned the relationship between the caller and the victim, Rumley was more deeply concerned “She didn’t realize that her father had been hit with the train, so it was just a bad situation.”
Asked the question as to whether the passive cross-buck sign was enough to protect drivers, Rumley told WTVC News Channel 9’s Mikaya Thurmond that “We need to see what we can do about a light or crossing arm that we can get put there right at that crossing. He further said that “I immediately contacted the Dept. of Transportation and Norfolk Southern. Those are the people that they talk to about crossings and about lights.”
Commissioner Rumley concluded that, even though the price of increased, active safety appliances would cost GDOT about $200,000, when considering the five separate accidents in the past few years, “the money would be more than worth it.”
Going forward to the Thursday morning accident between a 90-car NS coal train powered by five locomotives and an empty 18-wheeler, an as-yet unnamed semi-trailer truck driver received non-life-threatening injuries but had his rig heavily damaged at the non-gated intersection of Old Wauhatchie Pike in Chattanooga, TN. The oddly-designed crossing, which parallels the railroad line which carries a daily average of between 10 and 12 trains at a top allowable speed of 50 mph on each side, but then makes an acute-to-obtuse angular crossing of the tracks displayed an interesting history in FRA records.
Even though the NS/Old Wauhatchie Pike intersection has a daily traffic count of over 1,900 vehicles, including four school bus crossings, the grade crossing is only equipped with flashing lights and bells. There is no crossing gate, which likely could have helped to prevent this accident.
Thursday’s collision left the tractor and destroyed trailer on opposite sides of the track and 50 feet beyond the point of impact, the driver in a local hospital, and the sole positive being the fact that the driver had just delivered his load.
Janet Craft, who lives near enough to the crossing to see it from her front porch, told WCRB-TV, Channel 3 Reporter Kimberly Barbour “We just heard a real loud bang and we knew that the train had hit someone.” Seeing the mangled trailer from her front porch, she feared the worst.
“That’s what I was telling them on 911. It looks as if he (the driver) could have been killed.”
“Some of these crossings don’t have the arms that come down with lights on them and everything,” commented Sheriff Cross, “so if you come to these crossings, please stop.”
But residents and motorists like Ms. Craft feel that the safety factor lies in the lack of crossing gates. “Sometimes you can’t see the lights or hear them (the bells).”
Both of these incidents occurred at crossings that did not have both lights and gates. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented both of these incidents. Both Norfolk Southern 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%.