(Page, North Dakota – September 1, 2013)
A 67-year-old female North Dakota resident died as a result of injuries she received Sunday evening at about 6:30 P.M. as she attempted to drive her 1999 Chrysler Concorde east across the rough, gravel surface of a township road railroad crossing that lacked any form of automatic protection. Her car was struck on the driver’s side by a BNSF freight train hauling 73 cars at 52 mph.
The victim, who was wearing her seat belt and whose identity was released Monday as Judy Rahlf of Cooperstown, ND, was obviously concentrating on navigating her car across the gravel and was only going 15 mph when the train struck her vehicle and dragged both about a third of a mile down the railroad tracks before coming to a halt.
North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Tom Herzig acknowledged that the crossing has no crossing arms or warning lights, but indicated the presence of passive signage (which has no capability of giving drivers advance warning of oncoming trains) and said there was nothing to block sight distances, but did not address the condition of the crossing’s surface or its possible distraction to the motorist.
The victim was airlifted to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, ND, where she passed away as a result of her injuries.
As previously mentioned, this crossing did not have any lights or gates. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both BNSF and Operation Lifesaver know 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%.
Responding to the tragedy besides the NDHP were the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, F-M Ambulance, and Page Ambulance Service.