(Washington, Missouri – March 19, 2014)
A 66-year-old Washington, MO farmer is lucky to be alive after he experienced a collision with a St. Louis-bound Amtrak train at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of the St. John’s Island Access Road and Union Pacific Railroad tracks five miles west of Washington at about 12:50 P.M. early Wednesday afternoon.
Gene Brinker got his tractor across the double-tracked UPRR rail line, but the train, which was obscured by heavy tree and underbrush foliage, struck his vehicle right behind the trailer hitch, ripping his disking implement from the vehicle and casting the pieces of the machine along the south side of the eastbound track.
According to Washington Fire Chief Bill Halmich, Brinker was treated at the scene by emergency response personnel as a precaution.
Brinker told Chief Halmich that he neither saw nor heard the train, which could well have been, given the position of the train, angle of the crossing and the fact that, regardless of the 41 trains, which include four Amtrak passenger operations, that cross the St. John’s Island Road daily at speeds as high as 75 mph, Federal Railroad Administration regulations do not require train engineers to sound the locomotive’s horn as it approaches crossings designated as private, which the UPRR/St. John’s Island Road is.
The crossing is lacking any active warning devices, such as lights and gates. 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%.