(Saugerties, New York February 16, 2017)
A 50-year-old local woman was killed when she was thrown from the back seat of a taxi, at the dangerous, unguarded and tree-obscured crossing of Doyles Lane in the southeast New York State community of Saugerties, NY. The collision occurred at approximately 11:45 A.M., EST Thursday, when a train consisting of two southbound CSX locomotives struck a cab transporting two passengers.
Bertha Whispell, the taxis back seat passenger, was pronounced dead at the scene while the two men in the front seat, driver Phillip Prindle, 43, and Rodney Smith, 52, both of Kingston, NY, were taken to HealthAlliance Hospitals Broadway Campus in Kingston. As of Friday, Prindle had been released after an overnight stay, but Smith remained hospitalized with injuries described only as non-life threatening.
Daily Freeman news staff reported that the Doyles Lane/CSX crossing, designated as private on the Federal Railroad Administrations railroad crossing database, like others on dead-end roads off Kings Highway, has no gates or warning lights.
Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra, told the newspaper that the black box event recorders have to be evaluated and that takes time. When or if the horn was sounded, how fast each vehicle was travelling, or if the cab driver stopped before occupying the crossing are unknown at this time. Chief Sinagra also said authorities would continue to assess whether any charges are warranted against the cab driver or the trains engineer.
The crossing has heavy arbor growth from the direction the train was coming and causes blockage to the track line-of-sight of drivers of westbound vehicles. This visual obstruction problem is only compounded by the fact that there are no active warning devices, such as lights and gates, at this crossing. It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with signals, such as lights and gates, this collision would not have happened. Both CSX 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%.
The FRA records also confirmed that, on an average day, 31 CSX trains cross Doyles Lane at a maximum authorized speed of 50 MPH.
Although there was no record of previous accidents at that particular crossing, adjacent private crossings had resulted in two deaths. One in April 2005, which killed Joseph Budik, 64, the director of maintenance and plant operations at Ulster County Community College, just months before his scheduled retirement. The second in April of 2002, in which a semi-trailer truck driver James J. Webster, 42, of Hudson, NY, died when his truck was struck by a CSX train at the Tissal Road crossing. This caused Ulster County Road officials to re-align the crossings approach road due to the little vehicular storage space available, increasing the approach distance to Kings Highway from 19 to 320. Additional, non-fatal, accidents had occurred there as well.
Sue Andersen of Saugerties, who said that not only was she the daughter of earlier victim Budik, but whose great aunt, Bertha Trnka, had been killed in a crossing crash at another private crossing prior to her fathers fatal collision.
In an electronic letter Friday to The Daily Freeman, Andersen called for an investigation into what she characterized as delays in making all the crossings safer. How many more people need to die? Andersen asked.
Also on Friday, Town of Saugerties Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel told The Daily Freeman that the reluctance of CSX to pay for the installation of flashing signals and crossing gates at the crossings off of Kings Highway was agrivating, saying Weve been begging them (CSX) for that for years.