(Mesquite, Texas – January 14, 2016)
An 18-wheeler driver died Thursday after Amtrak’s Chicago-bound “Texas Eagle” struck an empty semi-trailer asphalt hauler at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of the private drive entrance leading into the APEC Texas asphalt paving plant in the east Dallas suburb of Mesquite, TX late Thursday afternoon at about 4:35 P.M., CST. The collision engulfed the destroyed truck tractor cab, the locomotive and first two rail passenger cars in flames. Although the blaze was quickly extinguished by firefighters from both the Mesquite and Sunnyvale Fire Departments, the rail equipment sustained serious scorch marks and the skeletal remain of the truck’s cab lay in smoking ruins near the crossing as the trailer lay overturned.
The driver, identified as Shannon Keith Thomas, 55, who had reportedly been an employee of truck-owner J.B. Hunt Transport, was entering the quarry to the north as Amtrak train number 22 approached from the west. Spokeswoman Melinda Urbina from the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office speculated to NBC News Channel 5 that the setting sun may have blinded the driver from seeing the approaching train. The train is one of a daily average of 18 Union Pacific freight and Amtrak passenger trains that cross there at a maximum allowable speed of 70 mph according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Meanwhile, several media reporters, including both KXAS-TV, Channel 5, and WFAA, Channel 8, noted the lack of crossing gates, in particular, as a major factor in the accident’s causal faults. “There aren’t any crossing arms to keep a car from crossing at this point,” said WFAA’s David Gowen. His counterpart at KXAS Channel 5, Cory Smith, agreed, reporting that “We did notice there were no crossing arms at this location.”
Thursday’s tragedy marked the fifth accident and second fatality to occur at the crossing. It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, these tragedies would not have happened. Union Pacific, Amtrak, 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 train had six crew members and 44 passengers on board, at least one of whom claimed injuries resultant from the impact.