(Warner Robins, Georgia – May 31, 2012)
When – or if – the deadly Norfolk Southern railroad crossing of Ignico Drive in Warner Robins, GA will get crossing gates obviously depends upon whom you ask, but one thing is for sure: the numbers (17 accidents, eight injuries and four deaths) are obviously insufficient to warrant expedited action by the Georgia DOT or the Norfolk Southern Railway.
The tragic deaths Sunday afternoon of a young mother and her one-month-old infant and the serious injury of the baby’s father stirred up a lot of public concern and media inquiries, but received the same reply from GDOT as had been given nearly a year (July, 2011) ago: a gate will be installed in 12 to 14 months.
Now following Sunday evening’s tragedy, GDOT is offering the same answer: the crossing should have gates installed and operating by the end of next year. Why the promise of 12 to 14 months lay stagnant while more innocent lives were lost is anybody’s guess, because 14 months from last July would be this coming September, 2012.
And, in their usual fashion, there will be no expedited installation schedule because, as NS Director of Public Relations Susan Terpay explains “Norfolk Southern installs the safety arms and maintains them, but it’s up to the Georgia Department of Transportation to decide where they go.”
After initially ducking media inquiries, GDOT finally answered Wednesday, saying that “The crossings are ranked using the ‘Hazard Index’, which looks at train and traffic volumes, existing warning devices, number of passenger trains, school bus crossings, and number of accidents. Other factors such as sight distance, train speed and geometry of the roadway at the crossing are considered.”
GDOT estimates the cost of the addition of crossing gates to the already existent flashing lights and bells will be between $200,000 and $350,000 as well as claiming the Ignico Drive/NS crossing is “on their high-priority list and in line to get crossing arms.”
But promises and priority lists mean little to Pamela Patten, a civilian worker at the Robins Air Force Base, who is conducting her own, personal campaign to get gates at the deadly crossing. Patten says she is contacting state and railroad officials in an effort to get a gate at the crossing, but as of Thursday was still awaiting response from either entity.
“When you see a baby whose life is taken away, it’s just heartbreaking,” attests Patten to Macon Telegraph Staff Writer Wayne Crenshaw.
And in support of the statement of a Houston County Sheriff’s officer who responded to Sunday’s tragedy that he “couldn’t hear the train warning in his car at the site” of the fatal crash, Patten further said that she and a friend had been crossing the tracks at the same location two days prior to the tragedy, and experienced a near collision herself. She looked to the right and saw a train coming which “was close enough to scare me. When your windows are up, you don’t hear it.”
Perhaps the public, like Patten, and the press should not feel slighted in being stonewalled by GDOT, as State Representative Larry O’Neal (R-Warner- Robins) could get no reply from the agency Thursday when he called, inquiring into the same subject.