(Leoni Township, Michigan – February 2, 2012)
After his release from a local hospital, where he was treated for injuries he received in his miraculous escape from death in a collision with an Amtrak passenger train at the “low ground clearance” crossing of Portage Road and Norfolk Southern railroad tracks in Leoni Twp, MI Wednesday, truck driver David Zimmer, 68, of Saugerties, NY was presented with a traffic citation for not heeding a sign that neither the railroad nor the county ever put up.
Although he was given no advance warning of the potential hazard, his truck got stuck and he tried repeatedly to dislodge it from its precarious position, only to have the Chicago-bound Amtrak train hit his disabled semi, resulting in the locomotive and two cars of the train derailing and sending 10 passengers and Zimmer to a hospital for treatment of their injuries.
Zimmer was driving an 18-wheeler hauling oil field equipment when his semi-trailer became hung up on the high-profile crossing, a hazard of which he received no warning as the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices requires.
Township Public Safety Director Mike Jester told local news media that police would be citing the trucker for trying to cross railroad tracks without enough clearance, a “violation” he described as a civil infraction. The statute police intend to charge Zimmer with indicates that a driver should not cross the tracks unless the vehicle has enough space underneath so it can cross the tracks without stopping.
While officials were busy pointing fingers at the alleged culprit, no attention whatsoever was paid to the MUTCD, which is the standard for all transportation agencies in the United States, and its requirements for crossings like the Portage Road/NS one.
The MUTCD states clearly that “If the highway profile conditions are sufficiently abrupt to create a hang-up situation for long wheelbase vehicles or for trailers with low ground clearance, the Low Ground Clearance Highway-Rail Grade Crossing (W10-5) sign should be installed in advance of the highway-rail grade crossing.”