(Dallas, Texas – December 1, 2012)
With still a month to go in 2012, deaths suffered at railroad crossings in the state of Texas were rising far above the levels of the past four years according to an Associated Press story published Saturday by AP writer Danny Robbins.
Focusing upon two multiple-fatality tragedies, one in the east Texas community of Diboll, which killed three family members representing three generations, and one August 15 in Midland, Texas where a freight train interrupted a parade honoring wounded servicemen and their wives, crashing into a semi-trailer truck serving as a parade float, and killing four wounded warriors while it injured 16 armed forces personnel and spouses, the AP study showed that 32 people had died at Lone Star State railroad crossings thus far in 2012, compared to an annual average of 20 deaths during the previous four years.
In both cases cited, the railroad involved was Union Pacific.
This year’s Texas death toll was in stark contrast to declining numbers nationwide through the month of August. Fatality figures in 2006 and 2007 were 34 and 44, respectively. Nationally, U.S. railroad crossing fatalities have fallen the past five years, and could fall again in 2012, dependent upon the final four months ‘experience.
The AP article renewed “questions about whether the thousands of miles of track in the state is being safely maintained and monitored”. Texas was among 10 states required to formulate their own individual grade crossing safety plans in the Federal legislation passed in 2008 after a tragic train collision in California. But the plan, developed by the Texas Dept. of Transportation and listing dozens of strategies ranging from evaluation of railroad crossings with multiple accidents to the development of outreach programs to better educate the public and law enforcement, will not be fully implemented until 2014, according to TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer. Beyer, however, put the emphasis upon motorists as those who “hold the key” to railroad crossing safety.
Manhattan, KS attorney Bob Pottroff who, along with Lubbock, TX attorney Kevin Glasheen, is representing at least one couple injured in the Midland wounded warrior railroad crossing accident, disagrees with blaming motorists for all tragedies at railroad crossings. He says that the real issue is how the railroads are increasing train speeds without making adjustments on crossing circuitry and protective devices in order to provide longer time expanse between initial signal warnings and the arrival of trains at the grade crossings.
Pointing out that Texas is in a critical corridor for moving freight trains to and from the West Coast, Pottroff said “They are flying trains through Texas faster than they ever were.”
In the case of the Midland train tragedy, the National Transportation Safety Board found that the Garfield Street crossing signals were activated 20 seconds before the train struck the parade float, but documents provided by TxDOT rail-highway section director Darin Kosmak last week showed that the device was designed to activate at 30 seconds. Kosmak, a veteran TxDOT railroad section official, said that trains running across the UP corridor through Midland are traveling “at a maximum speed of 70 mph even though the crossing’s design was based on speeds of no more than 25 mph,” the AP reported.