(Sellersburg, Indiana – December 15, 2017)
One man was declared dead and two other occupants of a Kentucky-licensed SUV were flown to the University of Louisville Hospital after a Louisville & Indiana Railroad freight train slammed into their vehicle. The vehicle was traveling westbound on Bringham Drive in Sellersburg, IN Friday afternoon about 4:00 P.M. when the collision occurred. The driver had waited for traffic on US Highway 31 to clear, thus occupying space on the rail line which so closely parallels the highway that vehicular storage space between the heavily-travelled highway and the railroad track is virtually nonexistent.
The deceased, a passenger, was identified as Amir Salman, while the car’s other occupants, who were still in medically-induced comas at University of Louisville Hospital, were identified as Mohammad Alanani, 26, the driver, and Amaal Shaibi, 18, a female passenger.
Southern Indiana News and Tribune Writer Elizabeth DePompei reported that “There is a stop sign at the intersection of Bringham Drive and U.S. 31 just before the tracks, but there are no crossing arms or railroad warning lights.” It is virtually certain that if this crossing was protected by active warning devices, this collision would not have occurred. Both the Louisville & Indiana Railroad and Operation Lifesaver 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%.
On average eight trains that traverse this crossing daily at a maximum allowable speed of 49 mph, according to statistical information offered by the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Crossing Inventory. A source also confirmed that a previous accident at the same crossing had resulted in a non-fatal injury barely a year ago on September 20, 2016. Local police records also listed the earlier accident.
It was believed the trio was in Sellersburg seeking to purchase a car and had visited Midnight Towing on Bringham Road for that purpose. Police said the SUV they were in, which was demolished, would be mechanically inspected as part of the investigation, and Sellersburg Chief of Police Russ Whelan told the News and Tribune representative that “It’s unclear whether the train slowed or used a horn, and answering those questions will be part of the investigation.”
“It wasn’t like he was trying to beat the train or anything like that,” witness Mike Neafus told WAVE-TV Channel 3 News Reporter Sharon Yoo. “It was a big crash. It almost sounded like a piece of metal falling or something, added Neafus, who further described the scene as “horrific.”
Another witness, Randi Shipp, who rushed to the demolished vehicle in an attempt to render aid to the victims, told WAVE’s Yoo that “They were still breathing when we got there and we knew that they were alive.”
“You just feel helpless because you know they have families,” lamented Neafus to WAVE-TV. “We all have families – this time of year – it’s tough!”
The Louisville & Indiana Railroad, which operates over 100 miles of former Conrail (Pennsylvania Railroad) line from Louisville to Indianapolis , is one of six short line and regional railroads owned and operated by Chicago-based Anacostia Rail Holdings, headquartered in the famed Railway Exchange Building, once the home office of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive.
Louisville & Indiana RR President John Goldman, who serves on the Association of American Railroads’ “Safety and Operations Management Committee”, offered a statement reading “Our thoughts and prayers go out to those involved in the accident today in Sellersburg. We are still investigating this incident and continue to work with local authorities to determine the cause.”