(Perham, Minnesota – February 13, 2015)
The driver of a semi truck hauling an empty grain hopper trailer narrowly escaped certain death at about 4:30 P.M. Friday afternoon when a westbound BNSF freight train struck his trailer at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of BNSF rails and 505th Street in Otter Tail County, MN, just west of Perham.
The crossing where semi driver John Ruther, 54, of Perham nearly died presents the situation of a double-tracked road/rail intersection where a total of 52 trains, including a pair of Amtrak passenger trains, cross a county road which is used daily by two school bus movements. Yet, the crossing does not have any active warning devices, such as lights and gates, to warn drivers of the trains, which are allowed to achieve a top speed of 75 mph.
It is virtually certain that if equipped with lights and gates this accident would not have happened. Both BNSF and Operation Lifesaver know that 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%.
Although separated from one another by a river and a state line, Perham is only a few dozen miles from Larimore, ND, where a loaded school bus and a BNSF train collided January 5 at another dangerous, unguarded crossing, killing the bus driver and a student and injuring every surviving child aboard the bus. That deadly passive North Dakota crossing will now get the full lights, bells, gates protective described earlier, but the preventative actions after the unspeakable tragedy cannot resurrect the lives lost at the BNSF grade crossing.