(Fort Branch, Indiana – August 6, 2013)
Police were closely guarding the identities of three victims, one a fatality, of a Tuesday morning collision between a CSX freight train and a minivan at the dangerous, unguarded crossing of Gibson County Road West 550 South and CSX rails just north of Fort Branch, IN. The collision occurred at about 9:30 A.M. late Tuesday afternoon. Later in the day, confirmation of the death of four-year-old Andrea Bullock by Gibson County Coroner Barrett Doyle was made as well as identification of the driver, the victim’s father, John Bullock, 49, who was still a patient at Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, IN. A second child, still unnamed, was treated and released after treatment at Deaconess. The family is from Princeton, IN.
As previously mentioned, this incident happened at a dangerous, unguarded crossing. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both CSX 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%.
One reason for the stealthily slow investigation progress could possibly have been the existence of an earlier fatality that occurred at the same crossing on October 29, 2011, a tragedy which brought neither railroad nor government agency support for the installation of a protective system consisting of flashing lights, bells and crossing gates. Today’s tragedy probably will draw even less interest in protecting the driving public from the average of 29 trains that CSX sends across CRW 550 South each day at a top allowable (determined by the Federal Railroad Administration’s track classification index, not a precaution in regard to the combination of faster trains and local motor vehicle traffic) speed of 60 MPH.
Both the FRA’s Crossing Inventory Guide and Gibson County Sheriff’s Dept. Sgt. Bruce Vanoven confirmed that the crossings only “markings” came in the form of standard, passive railroad crossbuck and highway “stop” signs, designed only to indicate the presence of a railroad crossing, but with no ability whatsoever of giving warning of an approaching train. The railroad’s lone comment came in the form of non-communication, as news media attempts to reach CSX were not returned.
Meanwhile, crossing warnings may have been silent, but not the crossing concerns of nearby residents. “I didn’t see it, (but) I heard it,” testified Dave Robison. “It’s just bad, it’s not good. Another one would be too many. It’s already three more than should have been killed there,” he noted, indicating at least three earlier fatalities he recalled occurring at the intersection.
“They’ve tried for years to get something done about it, but it doesn’t help,” noted another long-time resident as he talked to news reporters. “Sure, arms would help – that would stop people. Even flashing lights would help,” said Vernon Welch, who crosses at the CSX/CR West 550 South crossing daily
His fellow Gibson County resident agreed fully. “They need to put some lights up there,” said Welch.