(Grand Forks, North Dakota – August 21, 2013)
Two Grand Forks, ND mosquito spraying patrol employees, performing their usual job, received massive injuries Wednesday morning at about 8:36 A.M. when their bright orange Kubota RTV 1100 utility vehicle was crushed by a BNSF train consisting of two locomotives hauling 16 railroad hopper cars filled with granite rock ballast for use in railroad track maintenance activities at the dangerous, unguarded intersection of 17th Avenue South and BNSF Railroad tracks.
All the wrong circumstances were in play as the unsuspecting victims escaped with their lives but not terrible injuries. Kyle R. Johnson, 28, the operator, was taken to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks, ND, where he was admitted in critical condition, while his passenger and helper Jonathan R. Bartel, 22, was in serious condition after their vehicle, which has an enclosed cab to cushion the sound of the generator-fired spraying equipment, was thrown into a trackside ditch by the force of the impact. Their UTV was headed eastbound, facing directly into the early morning sun with all equipment operating when the train, one of few that operate on that particular BNSF rail line daily, and which had originated in St. Cloud, MN and was bound for Devils Lake, ND, smashed into the vehicle’s passenger side.
There are absolutely no automatic, active railroad crossing protective devices at the crossing, which has only standard, passive railroad crossbuck signs which are totally incapable of warning motorists of oncoming trains. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both BNSF 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%.
Utilizing e-mail, which generally removes the casual conversational element from railroad official/news media interviews, BNSF Spokesperson Amy McBeth said that she did not know how fast the northbound train was travelling. However, she did utilize the format to plead the railroad’s standard message that the train’s crew “has the least ability to avoid a collision that often occurs in a matter of seconds. They can’t steer the train out of the way,” adding that “They can apply the train’s emergency brakes, but there is nothing more they can do to make the train stop any faster.”
However, the BNSF spokeswoman refused to tell Grand Forks Herald Staff Writer Kevin Bonham the names of the railroad employees involved in the collision, telling him that her refusal was based upon the fact that locomotive engineers and conductors “sometimes receive harassing phone calls.”