(Madera, California – May 13, 2016)
Three farm workers, believed to be in their late 20’s or early 30’s, were tragically killed at about 12:30 P.M., PDT Friday afternoon when their Chevrolet 3500 work pickup truck was struck by Amtrak’s Oakland, CA-northbound San Joaquin train. The Amtrak train was hidden from view by a stopped BNSF freight train, which was blocking the motorists pathway to their agricultural worksite. The train also had 217 passengers on board.
The victims, whom the California Highway Patrol indicated “were familiar with the area and were working nearby”, were not identified by name as authorities sought to first notify the victims’ next-of-kin. The Amtrak engineer, who was operating the train at nearly 80 mph, also claimed injuries in the collision, but was treated at the scene by responding paramedics.
According to records kept by the Federal Railroad Administration, the tragedy was not the first to occur at the crossing. There may have been up to four non-fatal collisions, but information provided by railroad and county officials was sketchy at best, and the exact crossing could not be determined.
The crossing accommodates a daily average of 42 BNSF freight and Amtrak passenger trains at speeds of up to 79 mph. Yet, this crossing does not have any active warning devices, such as lights and gates, to warn of a trains approach. It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, this collision would not have happened. Both BNSF and Operation Lifesaver all 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%.