(Hastings, Nebraska – April 1, 2016)
A 68-year-old driver of a semi-trailer truck died Friday afternoon, 3:50 P.M., CDT when his truck was hit by an eastbound BNSF freight train at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of Heartland Avenue and BNSF railroad tracks four miles east of Hastings, NE, in Adams County. The tragedy occurred when the freight train consisting of 68 empty cars being pulled by two locomotives hit the truck’s tractor on its passenger side and in the ensuing scene, broke a rail and derailed both locomotives and three freight cars.
The driver, Alan Lanham of Ravenna, NE, likely never saw or heard the train as it approached the crossing. The train was proceeding from Denver, CO, and was bound for Chicago, IL when it approached the Heartland Avenue Crossing which lacked any form of active warning devices, such as lights and gates. It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, this collision would not have happened. Both BNSF and Operation Lifesaver all 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%.
Federal Railroad Administration railroad crossing inventory information claimed only four BNSF trains use the crossing daily at maximum-allowable speed of 20 mph, but information entered by county and railroad sources was vague at best.
The location of the accident was north of Heartland Avenues juncture with U.S. Highway 6, and created a traffic nightmare as numerous roads in the area were closed to traffic due to the collision and derailment. Hastings Fire and Rescue personnel responded and Nebraska State Patrol troopers and officers from both the Adams and Clay County Sheriff’s Departments assisted in the investigation.