(North Berwick, Maine – July 14, 2011)
A railroad accident investigator from Ohio, with strong credentials in train accident investigation, is casting a critical light upon allegations that the crossing gates were down at this past Monday’s tragic collision between a trash hauler and Amtrak’s “Downeaster” passenger train at North Berwick’s Elm Street crossing.
Robert Comer, who operates Forensic & Electronic Research, Inc. in Magnolia, Ohio, told media and police representatives that “In my 22 years of experience of investigating railroad crossing crashes, I have seen gates that were down and then hit by a vehicle and gates that came down on the vehicle. This particular gate does not appear to have been all the way down when hit.” Comer further argued that if the gate were fully in down position, the truck would have smashed the gate arm into many pieces, and not at a 90 degree angle to the roadway.
He blames the track circuitry, which allows for activation of lights and gates no less than 20 seconds prior to a train’s occupying the crossing. “Amtrak trains are notorious for having detection problems with track circuits,” he maintained.
Cliff Cole, Amtrak spokesman, countered Comer’s comments with the claim that “Amtrak is satisfied that they operate a completely safe and reliable train system.” Meanwhile, North Berwick Police Chief Stephen Peasley was suspicious of Comer’s accusations, saying his comment “doesn’t jibe with (any) of the evidence that we’re getting,” and questioning that Comer has “an axe to grind.”