(Camas, Washington – May 16, 2017)
A 34-year-old Vancouver, WA mother was killed and her 14-year-old son hospitalized after their car was hit and crushed by a Portland-bound Amtrak passenger train. The Amtrak train was operating on BNSF railroad tracks Tuesday morning at about 10:30 A.M., PDT about three miles west of Camas, WA. The mother’s seriously-injured child, who was in the front passenger seat of the destroyed vehicle, was rushed by ambulance to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver.
The train that killed Maria G. Gonzales Torres was Amtrak’s “Empire Builder”, one of between 35 and 40 trains that operate daily across the heavily tree and foliage-obscured crossing at maximum allowable speeds of up to 70 mph. BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas was quoted by Camas/Washougal Post-Record Reporter Kelly Moyer as saying that “the private crossing had warning signs, but no bells, flashing lights or crossing arms to indicate that a train was approaching.”
Melonas added that these types of marked, private crossings, which typically lead into residential areas, are common in the Camas area.
It is virtually certain that if this crossing was protected by active warning devices, this collision would not have occurred. BNSF, Amtrak 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%.
News media photos of the fatal crossing showed how heavily enshrouded the crossing was by trees and underbrush, virtually forcing motorists to endanger themselves and their passengers while looking for approaching trains.
“It’s just sad to hear of someone dying,” lamented neighbor Yadira Alfaro to Portland’s KOIN-TV. “Sometimes you don’t hear the train.”
Portland Fox 12 KPTV News described the fatal crossing as “unsecured.”