(Camden, Ohio – August 27, 2013)
A mother and her eight-year-old son, returning home from a visit to a relative’s nearby home, were involved in a collision with a nearly 2000-foot long Norfolk Southern Railway freight train headed to Cincinnati, OH from Fort Wayne, IN that law enforcement officials doubt she ever saw Tuesday evening at about 7:35 P.M. as she drove her Pontiac Montana minivan across the private drive leading to her home in Camden, OH, resulting in the mother’s death and her son’s serious injury.
Even more tragically, the woman’s husband and boy’s father, as well as the couple’s two other sons, all witnessed the death of Brandy L. Brandenburg, 31, their wife and mother, and the injury to their sibling.
The entire family was outside the house and the father was mowing the lawn as a train was switching an industry directly across the tracks from their residence, and probably was the only train the victim saw before her minivan was destroyed by the second train. There are two tracks at the crossing, and the first train was performing switching operations off the westbound main track as the unobserved train approached on the eastbound track.
The crossing in question, which sees an average of 28 trains daily at a top allowable timetable speed of 60 mph, is equipped only by a stop sign, completely lacking any active, automatic railroad crossing protective devices such as flashing lights, bells or crossing gates. Although Federal Railroad Administration regulations do not require the use of train horns by locomotive engineers as they approach private crossings, Norfolk Southern Public Relations Manager Dave Pidgeon said that “engineers are supposed to blow the horn when approaching private crossings”. He could not confirm the train’s speed, but did agree that the speed limit on that section of track is 60 mph. Pidgeon also said that The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is responsible for decisions on installation of flashing lights, bells and gates at crossings such as was the site of Tuesday’s tragedy, but PUCO Spokesman Jason Gilham denied that his agency puts up improved safety appliances at private crossings in Ohio.
As previously mentioned, this crossing did not have any lights or gates. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both Norfolk Southern 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%.
Preble County Sheriff Mike Simpson said that the victim, who crossed the tracks to get home every day, may not have seen the other train headed for her on the other track.
The victim was an active and popular volunteer at Camden Primary School, where grief counselors were on duty Wednesday to help students cope with the tragedy. Mrs. Brandenburg also served as the school’s kindergarten graduation ceremonies coordinator.