(Washington County, Tennessee – October 25, 2011)
To the victim, it was a terrifying experience when three runaway freight cars loaded with scrap iron nearly hit and killed Nicole Johnson as she drove across NS railroad tracks at the dangerous, unguarded crossing of Woodlyn Road in Washington County, TN about 9:00 P.M. Tuesday night.
To the railroad, it was no big deal.
“It was pitch black so I had no real warning,” said Johnson of the near miss by the unexpected and unseen freight cars.
The runaway cars had gotten away from the railroad at Jonesborough, TN, and travelled, unrestrained, about 10 miles to Piney Flats, TN, where an ascending grade in the tracks halted their escapade.
“No light, nothing,” recalled Johnson. “There was absolutely nothing, and yes, it did terrify me,” she said.
An unnamed spokesperson for Norfolk Southern admitted that, because the Woodlyn Road crossing is guarded solely by standard railroad crossbuck signs and highway stop signs, the cars came barreling down the tracks in the dark without warning. If the crossing had lights or gates, NS said, the runaway railcars would have triggered those warnings. The spokesperson could not offer an actual speed the cars attained, but said that, due to descending grades along the route, the cars did pick up some speed.
Norfolk Southern said that “this kind of incident is not common, and we are looking into what happened.”
Federal Railroad Administration records show there have been two previous accidents at the crossing, neither of them fatal. Tuesday night, the statistics could have added another accident and its first fatality.