(Schaghticoke, New York – January 3, 2014)
A terrified farmer barely escaped certain death Friday afternoon at about 2:00 P.M. when, as he was operating his 18-wheeler, loaded with 24 tons of shelled corn and headed for his farm on the opposite side of Pan Am/Norfolk Southern’s “Patriot Corridor” railroad crossing of Fisherman’s Lane in Schaghticoke, NY. The crossing has a descending, sloping, packed snow-covered approach to the dangerous and unguarded crossing, when the drivers rig locked the brakes and slid into the path of a Norfolk Southern train consisting of three locomotives hauling 29 auto rack cars loaded with new automobiles and two cars carrying intermodal piggyback containers.
The accident knocked the truck’s tractor, driver and all, into the nearby Hoosic River as it dragged the trailer several hundred feet onto the rail bridge crossing the river, spewing corn all the way.
The driver, identified as Unc Brock, had the entire accident witnessed by his wife, Kris Broc, from the window of the couple’s farm home after she heard the emergency brakes applied by her husband. “I thought he was dead,” professed Kris, who said the train “just hit the trailer and it was full of corn. It was like an explosion of corn,” and “the tractor went flying into the river” as she watched, helplessly.
“The sun was right in his (Broc’s) eyes, (and) he was going very slow,” recalled Mrs. Broc, who added that her husband made the same trip across the railroad crossing about five times daily.
Her husband was rescued by emergency responders from his icy perch aboard the destroyed truck tractor, and was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy, NY for treatment of undisclosed but non-life threatening injuries.
“This is an unprotected railway (crossing), and in 28 years this has never happened before,” observed Schaghticoke Fire Chief Mike Jackson.
Indeed, the public crossing of the jointly-owned Pan Am/Norfolk Southern Railway’s route to Boston, MA, where the train was headed, has no active protective systems such as flashing lights, bells and crossing gates, but rather is equipped solely with standard, passive railroad cross-buck signs, which have no ability whatsoever to warn the motoring public of the approach of one of the average of a dozen trains which cross Fisherman’s Lane railroad crossing daily at top allowable speeds of 35 MPH.
Emergency responders and law enforcement personnel, who included New York State Police Lt. Rich Anguish, were still at the scene studying how the totally-destroyed trailer could be removed from the bridge’s superstructure, the crushed tractor from the river, and the corn scattered along the railroad tracks before sub-freezing temperatures made the cleanup even more difficult.
Following Unc Broc’s release from his brief hospital stay Sunday, more safety concerns were being raised by residents and public officials in regard to the unguarded crossing. Kris Broc, wife of the victim and witness to the near-tragedy, said her husband never heard the train’s whistle, something Melrose Assistant Fire Chief James Henderson, whose team performed the cold water rescue of the victim, gave cause for concern from his residential perspective.
“Living on and near the railroad tracks, you don’t hear it (the whistle) all the time, and being the fact I live maybe 100 feet from the railroad tracks, I definitely would know if they blow it all the time, and they don’t,” the fire official testified.
Casting even more doubt upon the train’s whistling (or alleged lack thereof), Asst. Chief Henderson said that, even though New York State Police officers investigating the accident charged that the cause was Broc’s failure to yield to the train, “I think with the amount of traffic that goes down there from the fishermen and being that’s an active farm, that they should have some kind of railroad crossing (protection) there – at least lights warning you that something’s coming.”
News 10 ABC Reporter Lindsay Nielsen spoke with a Pan Am Railway worker at the crossing Saturday, and was told that the New York State DOT had already paid for the installation of active protective signals at the crossing, but that the challenge delaying placement of the signals was the difficulty in getting electrical power to the site.
“Something like this has to happen before they’ll do something, and it happens all over, and it’s a shame that it has to go this far,” lamented Asst. Chief Henderson in further evaluating the accident. “He’s lucky he didn’t get killed!” the public safety official concluded.
The Broc family is also reported to be considering legal action against the railroads involved.