(Monroe, North Carolina – April 30, 2013)
Four travelers on the highway were injured Tuesday when an 18-wheeler carrying PVC pipe became trapped by traffic on the poorly-designed Old Charlotte Highway crossing of CSX railroad tracks and was destroyed by a CSX freight train which was not even in evidence when the semi-trailer truck became stopped at the crossing as the driver tried to make a traffic light just beyond the crossing.
Mike Reese was in his office of the Union County Habitat for Humanity organization when “all of a sudden it sounded like a bomb went off” as the truck driver attempted to get his rig out of harm’s way by nudging the car ahead of him and creating a domino-effect situation.
Reese called the entire crossing design “an accident waiting to happen,” telling WCNC-TV Reporter Amy Cowman that the particular stretch of Old Charlotte Highway has always been a safety issue, having only two traffic lanes to handle a situation of what “I think they’ve calculated about 80,000 cars a day” that travel across the CSX crossing there. He added that the truck driver “couldn’t see up the railroad tracks because of the trees that the train was coming.” Regardless, investigating police, having been well trained by railroad police in issuing tickets regardless of the situation, thereby implying blame on the highway user and never the railroad, cited the trucker for “failure to stop at a railroad crossing,” even though witnesses claimed “he had crept into the railroad crossing to try to make the light as it changed.”
Federal Railroad Administration records state that, in 2005, the daily traffic county was 14,500 vehicles, and that an average of six CSX trains cross Old Charlotte Highway each day at a top allowable speed of 40 mph. Tuesday’s accident was the fourth collision recorded at the crossing, which is fully equipped with flashing light signals, bells and crossing gates, with none of the previous three resulting in any injuries. However, the FRA report also noted that the angle of the highway’s approach to the railroad tracks was “30 to 59 degrees,” making for, when added to the tree foliage, a most difficult crossing to negotiate, especially for drivers of 18-wheelers.
The four people injured in the chain-reaction crash were all treated at a local hospital emergency room and released. But it could have been much worse.
“The fact the truck was hauling PVC pipe and not fertilizer or gasoline – because they travel this road, too– so the fact that the product was not hazardous or flammable, we could have had a real mess here.”