(Buechel, Kentucky – August 3, 2015)
A non-gated and clearly dangerous Norfolk Southern grade crossing in Kentucky was again the scene of a near-fatal crash Monday afternoon about 2:55 P.M. The crossing was the site of a triple-fatality accident in March of this year and which had been approved for the addition of gates to the existing flashing lights prior to the earlier tragedy.
Two as-yet unidentified men were hospitalized at Louisville’s University Hospital after they tried to cross the extremely difficult crossing, which occurs at the 90-degree intersection of two heavily-traveled roads in Jefferson County, KY, just outside of Louisville yesterday, and were hit by a NS freight train, injuring both seriously.
Federal Railroad Administration, railroad and county information-supplied statistics reveal that the crossing, where three Jefferson County High School soccer players died as a result of injuries suffered in a Saturday afternoon, March 14 collision with a southbound NS train, is statistically infamous. A fourth student/athlete was hospitalized and in rehabilitation for two months for his injuries in the same tragedy.
Those same sources also state that the crossing, which does not have gates, accommodates 30 trains daily at a top authorized speed of 45 mph, and that the “notoriously dangerous” (according to WHAS-TV Channel 11 News Reporter Kayla Moody) crossing has now been the site of eight collisions resultant in three deaths and four critical injuries. The WHAS report also stated that “the railroad crossing has long been on the radar of local politicians who say it is unsafe,” citing the efforts which began last year by now-deceased Metro Council President Jim King, and whose successor to the District 10 Council seat, Steve Magre, has continued to spearhead, that secured $250,000 from the FRA late in 2014 to add crossing gates.
But the effort to install gates, which almost certainly would now have prevented a pair of accidents, three fatalities, and three serious and painful injuries, continues to languish through a process that seems nowhere near completion.
“The sad thing for me is,” Magre told Ms. Moody, “this is the second time I’ve had to be interviewed about an accident incident that occurred at this crossing.” The councilman continued by explaining that the gate project, installation and design of which will be performed by NS Railway personnel, is in the middle of a federally-mandated 60-day waiting period to field whatever public protests might be launched against the project for “historical” reasons. He added that, although a few minor accomplishments such as the installation of a new electrical power pole and removal of a tree have been made, he hopes the gates will go in during the fall with a completion date by year’s end, but that “the federal government allows the railroad company (Norfolk Southern) 12 months to complete the project.”
In a statement released to all news media, Councilman Magre said, in part, “I am really saddened to hear of the vehicle-train incident that took place this afternoon. My heart goes out to the two who were injured, and I pray for their recovery. It is public that this street intersection at these railroad tracks is scheduled for railroad gating to take place during 2015. The process is overseen by the Kentucky Department of Transportation and is tied to oversight via the Federal Railway (Railroad) Administration. The company responsible to place the gate system is Norfolk Southern Corporation. There is a lengthy list of items that must be completed before the physical work starts. All in all, it appears that the contracts needed to be agreed upon and signed will be in place by mid-September or so.”
The excuses made little sense to nearby resident Paulette Smith, according to a report by WAVE-TV, News Channel 3’s Charles Gazaway and Natalia Martinez. “Here’s two more accidents since they said the train gates were going up,” Smith told the reporters.
Her neighbor, Christy Eden, expressed similar skepticism. “It makes me feel upset because the gates are not up,” she told WAVE, which reportedly was “waiting to hear from Norfolk Southern and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to find out if the installation of the gates will be expedited.”