Deaths on rails rampant
Death on railroads is nothing new, but it happens so often it has become a national tragedy. In many cases, it is simply people being inattentive to where they are and their surroundings. Worst is when children die.
On August 12, a 15-year-old boy in Lancaster County, Pa., was struck and killed by an Amtrak passenger train while skateboarding on a railroad crossing in Mount Joy Borough.
The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal reported high school student Matthew Monroe, died at the scene of the mid-afternoon South Market Avenue accident, said Mount Joy Borough Manager Terry Kauffman.
“It’s a dangerous crossing,” Kauffman said.
“Amtrak has temporarily closed it, and this tragedy will lead us to a discussion on making that permanent.”
Matthew and another boy were skateboarding on the pedestrian crossing as a westbound Amtrak train, traveling about 80 mph with 242 passengers onboard bound for Pittsburgh, approached, said Karina Romero, an Amtrak spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.
Matthew was wearing headphones and apparently did not hear the warning bells or locomotive horn, investigators said.
A second boy suffered a minor hand injury.
A wooden rail prevents traffic from crossing the tracks at the site, and a sign there reads, “Danger: Do not cross track when bell sounds.”
In another child’s death, another 15-year-old boy, this time in San Antonio, who was playing on a railroad bridge, died when he couldn’t outrun an approaching freight train, police and railroad officials said.
The boy, whose name wasn’t released pending notification of his family, died at a hospital several hours after the August 16 accident, The AP reported.
Police and Union Pacific spokesman Joe Arbona said the boy and a friend were playing on the railroad bridge at about 4:00 p.m. when they heard the train and tried to run.
The 15-year-old was seconds from making it across when he was struck.
His friend jumped off the bridge and wasn’t hurt.
The locomotive engineer was coming out of a curve and didn’t see the boys until they were about 100 yards away, Arbona said. The railroad man took emergency action to stop the train, but the boys were trapped.
“Unfortunately, in those bridge situations, you sort of get caught,” Arbona said.
Trains traveling at 50 mph typically take about one mile to stop, he said.
Leading the parade by far are people n vehicles who try to beat the train by going around gates that haven come down, and ignore the bells and flashing lights.
In Chicago, two men at a crossing in Berwyn, Ill. Were died on August 16 when an Amtrak train bound for San Francisco smashed into the car, leaving a scene that witnesses described as macabre.
The Chicago Tribune wrote that the men had not been identified as of Wednesday night, and Berwyn police and the Illinois State Police were investigating the cause of the crash.
Amtrak’s California Zephyr, train No. 5, traveling on BNSF tracks, rammed into the side of the sedan at the crossing at East and Stanley Avenues, dragging it some 1,400 feet west to Oak Park Avenue. Police were called at 2:13 p.m.
None of the 250 train passengers or crew members was injured, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in Chicago.
The Amtrak crew told police “the vehicle drove directly in their path,” Magliari said. He could not immediately say what the train’s speed limit is in that area.
Berwyn Division Cmdr. Tom O’Halloran said there were no signs of a signal malfunction at the East Avenue crossing.
Witnesses recalled a sudden burst of heavy smoke and a grisly scene.
Tim McNamara left George's Tavern overlooking the tracks to help. He said he stood helpless over the wreckage so mangled with bits of fencing and steel posts that it no longer looked much like a car.
“They were dead,” he said, with posts spearing the men's bodies.
"There was no question."
Joe Clemens, 25, had just finished a moving job and had happened into the same tavern to check the bus schedule and grab a beer. He, too, ran out when he saw the smoke.
“Their seats were reclined all the way back,” said Clemens, who noted that he saw little blood.
The accident halted the trip for 3 hours and 45 minutes. Passengers were not allowed to leave the train.
Their journey resumed at 5:48 p.m. with the same crew, but eastbound trains were allowed through at about 3:15 p.m., O'Halloran said.
Also in Illinois, alcohol was “definitely a factor” in a freight train accident that killed a Springfield man, Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson said on August 14.
Floyd F. Dodd, 35, of that city suffered critical head injuries Sunday night and was taken to Memorial Medical Center. He was pronounced dead there at 2:55 p.m. Monday. Dodd, the fourth local resident to be struck by a train this month, also was hit by a train in 1999, the Springfield State Journal-Register reported.
Sunday’s accident happened about 9:45 p.m. on Norfolk Southern tracks near North Milton Avenue.
The locomotive engineer and conductor told deputies the train was traveling east at 40 mph when they saw what appeared to be trash or debris lying on the tracks about 50 yards ahead. When they were about 25 yards away, they realized it was a person. They immediately braked, but it was too late to avoid striking Dodd.
The trainmen said it appeared that Dodd had his head on the rail, using it as a pillow. He was on the south side of the tracks just west of where Milton Street is blocked off at a former railroad crossing. A can of beer, a pack of cigarettes and a bicycle were found nearby.
It was not clear whether Dodd had made any effort to get out of the way before the train struck him. He had an elevated blood-alcohol level, authorities said.
The train, which originated in Moberly, Mo., and was headed for Decatur, had 80 cars and five engines. It was a little more than a mile long and weighed more than 6,000 tons, authorities said.
An inquest will be conducted, Coroner Susan Boone said.
In November 1999, Dodd fell asleep on railroad tracks just north of 19th Street and North Grand Avenue and was hit by a Norfolk Southern train. Police said he was sleeping with his legs across the tracks and that the train pushed him to the side when it hit him. He suffered a compound fracture to one leg and a cut to the other.
Three other local residents have been injured by trains in just over a week.
On August 6, Alex R. Woods, 21, suffered a fractured skull and severe injuries to his arm when an Amtrak train hit him as he and a friend were sitting on a railroad bridge that crosses Lake Springfield. He was listed in serious condition Monday at Memorial Medical Center.
The friend, Terry Drennan, jumped into the lake, but Woods was unable to get out of the way before being clipped by the train and falling down an embankment.
On Wednesday, two people were struck by freight trains in separate incidents.
Sascha A. Hullinger was hit as she attempted to cross tracks at 11th Street and Ridgely Avenue about 2:40 a.m. She told police she saw a train stopped and thought she had enough time to cross the tracks before it began moving again, but she slipped and fell. The train severed her left foot. She was listed in fair condition Monday at a local hospital.
About 4:30 p.m. that day, 37-year-old Anthony D. walked into the side of a Norfolk Southern train near East Iles Avenue. Witnesses told police it looked as if Esslinger was trying to beat the westbound train as it approached. The train clipped his arm and spun him around, throwing him away from the tracks. He was reported to be in fair condition. Williamson said there is no rhyme or reason to the recent rash of incidents involving trains and pedestrians.
“We can go along for two or three years and not have one, then you can have three in a month,” he said. “It’s like anything. It’s just the law of averages, just freak things.”
In Florida, just yesterday a man lost a foot to a passing Florida East Coast Ry. freight train. The AP reported from Lake Worth that a man who sprawled out across the busy South Florida tracks lost part of his left leg when the train rolled over it, authorities said.
Police believe the man passed out on FEC tracks at about 4:20 a.m. Wednesday. The train crushed his left foot and injured his right leg.
In June, a teenage driver crashed his SUV at the FEC’s Flomich Avenue crossing, killing two and injuring three other passengers. On Wednesday, the Holly Hill police announced two counts of criminally negligent homicide, among other charges, have been filed against the driver. No alcohol or drugs were in his system.
The crash occurred as he drove over 70 mph over the crossing, getting airborne, losing control, and hitting a tree. The speed was three times the legal limit of 25. FEC tracks were apparently not a problem, although the crown of the road created the bump that launched the speeding SUV.
Shari Dinkins, a columnist with the Louisville Courier-Press wrote on August 13 that on March 24, a 2005 Volvo truck was struck by a 50-car CSX train in Owensboro, Ky. The driver parked his company truck a foot away from the railroad tracks near East 11th street, unaware that the tracks were active.
On May 18, a man and woman were killed after driving across the tracks near Goreville, Ind., after lights flashed and horns sounded. Even though the Union Pacific engineer put his train into emergency , their car skittered more than 200 yards down the track.
On June 8, a 22-year-old college student was killed at a railroad crossing on Waveland Lane in Lexington, Ky. He tried to drive across after lights had flashed and the train whistle sounded. This crossing had recently been examined by experts to determine whether gates were needed to safeguard the 2,000 vehicles that cross each day.
“When vehicles and trains mix, there is no winner. We have 154 grade crossings in Vanderburgh County,” she wrote.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, 109 are public property. Of those, all but nine have warning systems in place. The most heavily traveled crossings in Vanderburgh County are U.S. 41 with an average of 38,000 cars a day - with Green River Road, First Avenue and Fulton Avenue next -- and West Franklin Street with an average of 15,000 cars a day. With increased traffic comes increased risk.
In Vanderburgh County, “We had two derailments and four incidents at the start of 2006. In 2005, we had three train accidents, four nonfatal highway-rail incidents and two incidents with one fatality. In 2004, we had two train accidents, four highway-rail incidents, and four incidents. Based on accident history or the amount of rail and vehicle traffic, the FRA predicts that crossings at Governor Street, Cypress Dale Road, Fourth Street and Green River Road will generate the highest number of vehicle-train accidents.”
Trespassing and highway-rail grade crossing deaths account for 95 percent of all rail-related fatalities in the United States each year. Under Indiana Code 9-21-17-23, law enforcement can ticket pedestrians who go through, around, over or under a crossing gate or barrier at a railroad crossing. Drivers can also be ticketed for disregarding warning lights, crossing gates, flagmen or audible train signals at railroad crossings under Indiana Code 9-21-8-39. This includes “racing” trains. Cpl. David Vaupel of the Evansville Police Department said that he has enforced this law, giving tickets to drivers who have driven around lowered gates.
CSX conductor Charles Millwood said that in Terre Haute and Vincennces, drivers often skirt the gates long after the lights flash and the whistles sound.
“I have three or four close calls a day,” he said.
What many don’t know is that it takes a mile or more to bring a 6,000- to 14,000-pound train to a stop. Two years ago in Michigan, a tractor-trailer stalled on the tracks. The engineer immediately hit the emergency stop, slowing the train down to 15 mph. The driver escaped without injury, but the truck was split in half in the collision.
Operation Lifesaver people will tell anyone who listens that drivers should never race a train to a crossing or drive around a lowering gate. If a vehicle stalls, drivers should get out immediately and call for help. Pedestrians should never sleep, lie, jog or run on or near railroad tracks. Along with improved technology and railroad involvement, individual effort will decrease the number of injuries and deaths on the rails.
UP wreck blamed on weather
Union Pacific officials blamed the weather for a July derailment of 37 freight cars in Southern Oregon.
UP spokesman James Barnes said the extreme heat buckled the track that runs next to Upper Klamath Lake. The derailment halted rail operations in some parts of the West Coast for three days, according to the Eugene Register-Guard.
Although trains are running again, most of the cars remain next to the track.
The Klamath Basin had a prolonged heat spell in the weeks before the derailment. Crews had started rail upgrade work in the general area before the accident. The crews were south of the site, however, so it’s unclear if their work could have prevented the derailment.
Amtrak officials have said the Union Pacific line repairs are a factor in passenger train delays. Recently, the Train Riders Assn. of California reported that the Coast Starlight, which stops in Klamath Falls on its daily northbound and southbound travels between San Diego and Seattle, has been routinely running 5 to 15 hours late.
Amtrak officials said ridership on the Coast Starlight has declined 26 percent since 1999, and since last October only 2 percent of Amtrak passengers arrived at their destinations on time. Many of the delays have occurred on track between Portland and Sacramento.
Amtrak stated on Wednesday that “Due to heavy freight congestion and track work being performed by Union Pacific Railroad between Sacramento and Eugene, passengers traveling through December 2006 on Coast Starlights Nos. 11 and 14 may experience significant delays.”
The carrier outlined the revised schedule. Southbound No. 11, operating from Seattle to Los Angeles “may experience delays of approximately six to 10 hours.”
Buses will be provided from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles and from Santa Barbara to destinations on the Pacific Surfliner corridor.
Passengers traveling on its northbound counterpart, No. 14, operating from Los Angeles to Seattle “may experience delays of approximately four to six hours.”
Other UP trackwork will affect the California Zephyr, which runs between Chicago and Emeryville, Calif.
Amtrak reported the UP “has been replacing 40 miles of track this summer between Glenwood Springs and Granby. The work did not get finished by the original intended date, August 14, and has been extended.”
Train Nos. 5 and 6, originating in Chicago and Emeryville on August 16-17 and August 21-24 will detour through Wyoming between Denver and Salt Lake City the next day, which will be on August 17-18 and August 22-25.
Alternate transportation will be provided, the passenger carrier stated.
Bus 3505 will connect with No. 5 at Denver to Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, Col.; Green River, Helper and Provo, Utah, re-connecting with the same train 5 at Salt Lake City. The bus will both drop off and pick up passengers.
Bus 3405 will take passengers from No. 5 at Denver to Winter Park and Granby, but will drop off passengers only.
“There will be no service from Winter Park and Granby to any point west,” Amtrak stated.
Bus 3506 will connect with No. 6 at Salt Lake City to Provo, Helper and Green River, Utah; and Grand Junction, and Glenwood Springs, re-connecting with the same No. 6 at Denver.
This bus will both drop off and pick up passengers.
Bus 3406 will take passengers in the evening from No. 6 at Denver to Winter Park and Granby. This bus will drop off passengers only. There will be no service from Granby and Winter Park to No. 6, or to Granby and Winter Park from any point west.
Engineers to study freight
reroutes around Washington
The District of Columbia Department of Transportation (DCDOT) has hired an engineering firm to evaluate the feasibility of building a rail route around the city for carrying hazardous materials.
Parsons Brinckerhoff was hired through a $1 million Department of Homeland Security grant to study the best route for the rail line and analyze benefits and costs in a report due by early next year, in a report published in The Washington Times on August 16.
“It’s the first step in what would be a very big project,” said David Zaidain, project manager for the National Capital Planning Commission, the federal government’s planning agency for the Washington area, which is coordinating the efforts of groups involved in the rail line.
Options include building a rail line around the city, rerouting rail traffic onto existing freight lines or reactivating unused railroad rights of way that run north and south of Washington. No officials would speculate on the most likely option. Although Mr. Zaidain declined to estimate a cost of the project, he said it would be safe to assume that it would exceed $1 billion.
“Clearly, the cost of upgrading an existing freight line that is more remote from the Capitol, White House and other agency headquarters would be substantial,” said Rick Rybeck, DCDOT deputy administrator.
“The cost of constructing a brand-new freight line might cost even more.”
The rail line proposals are largely a response to concerns of the D.C. Council and the Homeland Security Department about the risk from terrorists’ sabotaging tank cars with hazardous materials, unleashing deadly chemicals on Washington’s population. Rail lines run less than a half-mile from the U.S. Capitol.
“A terrorist attack on a freight car with hazardous cargo, such as liquid chlorine, could kill thousands within a very short time and imperil the functioning of critical federal facilities,” Mr. Rybeck said.
The D.C. Council enacted a ban in January 2005 on hazardous-material shipments within 2.2 miles of the Capitol. It was opposed by CSX Transportation, which owns the rail line through the District, in a lawsuit that is scheduled for a trial this fall. Meanwhile, rail shipments continue through the city, but the railroad says it has rerouted tank cars carrying chlorine.
Parsons Brinckerhoff is assessing options to replace freight traffic on the 7-½-mile rail corridor that runs from the Virginia border near Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport into the District, over the Anacostia River and into Maryland. Two miles of the line are shared by Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express for passenger service.
A new rail line could speed up freight and passenger-rail traffic through the Washington area and free up land currently used by CSX for urban development, according to the DCDOT.
“Several points along the CSX line near and within the District have been identified as major choke points for freight traffic along the Eastern Seaboard,” Rybeck said.
Diesel locomotive emissions
are higher than first thought
For years, government scientists who measure air pollution assumed that diesel locomotive engines were relatively clean and emitted far less health-threatening emissions than diesel trucks or other vehicles – but not long ago, those scientists made a startling discovery: Because they had used faulty estimates of the amount of fuel consumed by diesel locomotives, they grossly understated the amount of pollution generated annually.
After revising their calculations, they concluded that the annual emissions of nitrogen oxide, a key ingredient in smog, and fine particulate matter, or soot, would be by 2030 nearly twice what they originally assumed, the Washington Post reported on August 14.
That means that diesel locomotives would be releasing more than 800,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and 25,000 tons of soot every year within a quarter of a century, in contrast to the Environmental Protection Agency's previous projections of 480,00 tons of nitrogen dioxide and 12,000 tons of soot.
The new findings have put pressure on the government to crack down further on diesel engine emissions, a long-standing goal of Bush and Clinton administration officials.
Bill Wehrum, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, said recently that his agency hopes to issue draft regulations by the end of the year or early next year for trains and ships that would reduce nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions "on the order of 80 to 90 percent."
Amtrak would help New Orleans
Louisiana and federal officials have agreed to try to have 150,000 shelter beds available for hurricanes that require large evacuations.
About 93,000 spaces already have been lined up, but exactly how many in-state shelters should be opened has been debated between state and federal emergency preparedness officials, The AP reported yesterday.
About 15,000 people could be evacuated on Amtrak trains, while airplanes leaving from New Orleans and Lake Charles could take out an additional 45,000 evacuees, said Gil Jamieson, the Department of Homeland Security's principal federal official in Louisiana.
After Hurricane Katrina last year, about 140,000 people ended up in shelters outside Louisiana, and another catastrophic storm threatening the entire Louisiana coast could require space for up to 250,000 evacuees, officials have said. Jamieson said FEMA is working with Louisiana officials to secure the necessary deals with neighboring states to provide 100,000 additional beds. the extra 100,000 capacity for that kind of storm.
Jamieson said officials also have been working with local governments to help evacuate people who don't have their own transportation, including lining up contracts with bus companies that could evacuate 88,000 people from New Orleans.
Amtrak HHP-8s sidelined
Problems continue with Amtrak's 8,000 hp HHP-8 electric locomotives. As of the morning of August 15, out of 13 locomotives on the active roster, only four were available yesterday. Of the nine out of service, four were for scheduled work; five were unavailable for other reasons. The engines, from Bombardier Corp. in Montreal, began arriving on the property in 2000.
No plans for freight rail, yet
Yesterday we reported that the United Transportation Union joined with rail shippers urging Congressional passage of legislation restoring the railroads’ exposure to antitrust laws. We learned later in the day from a reliable source that “It’s obviously part of UTU’s negotiating strategy to increase the pressure on the carriers to make a contract offer more to UTU’s liking.”