(Irving, Texas – May 30, 2013)
The as-yet unidentified 79-year-old driver of a red pickup truck died instantly just before 1:00 P.M. Thursday when his vehicle was struck on the driver’s side and knocked several yards down railroad tracks owned jointly by the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) by a three-car, single locomotive Trinity Railway Express commuter train carrying 80 passengers and headed from Dallas, TX to Fort Worth, TX at the Irby Lane crossing of TRE tracks. The TRE is operated by Herzog Transit Services under contract with the two municipal agency owners.
The erratic behavior of several features installed supposedly to improve railroad grade crossing safety for highway vehicles crossing there made investigators unable to accurately assess a cause for the tragic accident. The crossing is in a Federal Railroad Administration-authorized “Quiet Zone”, which basically prevents the sounding of train whistles or horns except in the case of emergency. The crossing has also been the site of nine train/vehicular accidents, with Thursday’s being the sole fatality suffered at the intersection.
The victim was traveling east on Rock Island Avenue (the TRE tracks utilize those of the long-defunct Rock Island Railroad, which ceased operations in 1980), and made a left turn onto Irby. While DART and TRE officials were quick to claim that all protective systems were working properly, the term soon became suspect as security video taken by a Texaco Filling Station and Convenience store at the southwest quadrant of the intersection was obtained by several Dallas-Fort Worth television stations, evidence that backed up the statements of several eye-witnesses who saw the gate still in the “up” position as the victim’s vehicle turned left off Rock Island, on which he had been driving eastbound, to northbound Irby Lane.
Transit officials attempted to explain why the gate was not descended over the path the victim took to enter Irby Lane, while witnesses and investigators agreed that “From the video, it seems that the driver didn’t see the train approaching over his shoulder and turned into its path.” Video of the crash also shows that all four crossing gates were down before the train entered the crossing, but the entry of a white pickup into the lowered gate on the southeast quadrant evidently triggered a fail-safe mechanism intended to prevent vehicles from being seemingly trapped by the four-quadrant crossing gate system.
“The system thinks the white truck is on the tracks and is making it impossible for the truck to get off,” said DART Spokesman Morgan Lyons. “That’s why the southwest arm – the one the white truck would use if it was trying to get out of the crossing – was up. The system also raised the northeast-most arm. That would be the escape area for a vehicle traveling north.”
Original FRA designs for crossings in “Quiet Zones” included concrete and chevron sign-marked barriers that were intended to channel traffic into individual lanes. But federal officials must have deigned the barriers to be redundant or too expensive, making accidental moves such as the victim of Thursday’s accident made nearly impossible to negotiate.