(Carleton, Michigan – August 9, 2013)
A tragic Friday afternoon collision between a train of one railroad, operating over the tracks and crossing of a second railroad, but each owned by third-tier railroads took the life of the 46-year-old driver of a gold, four-door, Ford Focus. This incident demonstrated quite accurately (or inaccurately?) the convolution of responsibility that exists in today’s railroad industry as well as the mixture of governmental agencies, one over another, that allow for “passing the buck” on which authority should have railroad public safety responsibility.
According to witnesses, David Perry, the motorist, approached the passive crossing of Finzel Road and Canadian National railroad tracks. Therefore, the crossing is effectively unguarded. Four trains pass over Finzel Road daily – without electronic/automatic signals such as flashing lights, bells and crossing gates to warn motorists as they approach on 35 mph-maximum allowable train speeds – where the drivers of a daily average of four school buses and 120 other types of highway vehicles attempt to determine what is coming – if anything – from which of the two directions.
The train that hit – and instantly killed – the victim, who was alone in his northbound car – consisted of 1,032 feet of train, 17 cars long, and owned and operated by the Indiana & Ohio Railway Company, itself a subsidiary of the massive Genesee & Wyoming Short and Regional Railroad ownership group, via trackage rights. The car, with the driver still strapped inside, appeared to stop at the STOP sign and then ease through the intersection, according to Sgt. Brian Angerer of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, only to be struck by the train and thrown north of the railroad tracks, where it came to rest as the train rolled another quarter of a mile to a half mile west before stopping on the railroad tracks – owned by the Grand Trunk Western Railway, a subsidiary of the huge Canadian National Railway system.
As previously mentioned, this incident happened at a dangerous, unguarded crossing. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both the railroad industry 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%.
The crossing where the tragedy occurred lies in an unincorporated area with a Carleton, MI address, but specifically Exeter Township, Monroe County, Michigan. Authority for the placement of crossing signals allegedly falls under the State of Michigan’s Dept. of Transportation in a sub-agency called the “Rail Safety Section”, which manages funding, priorities and multi-governmental agency funding for crossing protective safety improvement.