(China, Texas – February 19, 2013)
An 18-wheeler transporting a large back hoe excavator to a job site just west of Beaumont, TX, near the small community of China, TX, became stuck on an elevated private crossing, and one of the three construction workers trying to free the truck from the tracks died when a westbound Union Pacific freight train struck and virtually destroyed the truck trailer and its load about 8:00 A.M. Tuesday morning.
Joseph Grant, 22, of Kountze, TX was killed by the impact of the train as he struggled to free the gooseneck trailer from its impalement upon the crest of the crossing. The truck driver, Jimmy Robertson of Livingston, TX, who had stayed in the truck’s cab to apply power to the effort to free the trailer and its expensive load, was severely injured and was flown by helicopter to Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth’s in Beaumont for treatment of what were described as internal injuries. The third member of the construction crew, Andrew Cain of Beaumont, TX, who was also attempting to free the trailer from the crossing, was unhurt.
The private crossing, located just a few feet from U.S. Highway 90, which parallels the Union Pacific rail line for hundreds of miles, lies between the Exxon-Mobile crossings and the Yorkshire crossing, and is marked only with passive private crossing signs, and has no automatic warning devices like flashing lights, bells and crossing gates. But the glaring error here was the absence of a sign warning truckers of the highly humped, low ground clearance crossing, which would have informed the driver that the elevation of the crossing was steep and the possibility of impalement was extreme.
The collision was so violent that debris from the accident scattered across the westbound lanes of U.S. Highway 90, causing a secondary crash involving two highway vehicles whose drivers tried to avoid the pieces of the excavator and semi-trailer.
The truck tractor and trailer and excavator were owned by T&D Solutions of Beaumont, TX.
The heavily-travelled UPRR line, which also carries trains of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Kansas City Southern railroads in addition to Amtrak passenger trains, accommodates a daily average of 20 trains at top speeds of 70 mph according to Federal Railroad Administration records.
The Texas Dept. of Public Safety Highway Patrol and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office were handling the ongoing investigation into the tragedy.