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Billy Cunningham
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Accidents Between Trains and Cars at Railroad Crossings

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Alabama ranks among the top states in the nation in the number of railway incidents involving  highway crossings.  Why?  Is it inattentiveness by drivers, speeding trains, difficult terrain blocking views or just bad luck?  I performed a Google search to try to determine.  Very little information.  The National Safety Transportation Board issues railroad accident reports.  Those reports are generally published years after a wreck.  I found a website in Alabama for Alabama Operation Lifesaver.  That organization has not posted any information since 2012.  Here is what they reported regarding Alabama  railroad crossing crashes involving motor vehicle with trains:


*apparently these were estimates as the report was issued before final tallies were in.  

Nationally, it reported 1,431 crashes, 196 deaths and 760 injuries in 2011.  All of those numbers are dangerously high. An Anniston Star article in May 2014 discussed several train wrecks that occurred in northeast Alabama..  Otherwise, there has been very little news in Alabama about these catastrophic wrecks – except when people die.  

Locally, the stories of train collisions have been tragic.

  • In 2002, a train plowed into a Ford Mustang driven by 22-year-old Jacksonville resident Tonya Lena Southward at a crossing in Choccolocco, killing her as her vehicle sat on the tracks.
  • In 2010, a train struck and killed 46-year-old Oxford resident Kevin Lee McCullough as he walked down the tracks near his home around 5 a.m.
  • Earlier this year, a 35-year-old Oxford woman and her 7-year-old son were killed when a car driven by the woman’s daughter was struck by an oncoming freight train in Oxford.

“We have 3,500 miles of track with over 6,000 crossings,” said Nancy Hudson, executive director of Operation Lifesaver Alabama, a non-profit organization focused on railway safety.

“You’re onto something when you’re thinking about the size of the state and miles of track,” she said. “For the first time Alabama jumped into the top 15 for trespasser casualties.”

These wrecks can be prevented.  Flashing lights and gates are the best warnings to keep vehicles off railroad tracks.  Those are the responsibility of the railroad companies.  Why aren’t there more warnings like this?  Who decides what to put at these crossings? The railroad companies!  That costs money and even though  it has been shown in numerous settings that flashing lights and gates save lives, very few are used.  

Instead of investing in those warnings, the train companies deny responsibility when one of these catastrophic car/train wrecks occur and  turn to federal law to protect them from liability if they strike a car or truck. They say we took federal money to build these crossings and you cannot sue us because federal law says you can’t. This is not exactly true, but train companies have been very successful with this defense in Alabama.  

We represented a passenger in a truck which was struck by a train. Due to his brain injuries, he does not remember the wreck. The truck driver stopped at the cross-buck warning and testified that because of a parked train on parallel tracks he could not see the train coming.  By the time he saw the train coming it was too late. If there had been flashing lights and gates, the wreck would not have happened.  We were able to overcome the use of federal money defense because the railroad was unable to prove federal funds were actually used at this particular crossing.   

Even if you are as diligent as humanly possible, the wrecks can occur.  They can be prevented by the use of flashing lights and gates at these intersections.   

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  1. robert pines says:
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    …Alabama Operation Lifesaver…The public should have a problem with these railroad handmaidens.

    Things a real Operation Lifesaver would ask!!!
    1. Why are all OL directors handpuppets of the railroad or government only giving lip service safety messages?
    2. Why nothing is ever mentioned by OL that would cost the railroads a penny on the obviously missing safety equipment and track maintenance work?
    3. Where are the crossing safety signals for the trains going too fast with no brakes or steering at 1,000s of crossings?
    4. Where are the track video monitors for the trains going too fast with no brakes or steering to get the train stopped IN TIME?
    5. Why aren’t railroads paying at least half for crossing signals because it’s their trains going too fast with no brakes or steering while paying the so-called RR directors millions a year.
    6. Why the crossing humps trapping big trucks aren’t required to be removed?
    7. Why the crossing surfaces aren’t wider where if a vehicle fish tails on slick road and is trapped at the edge of the crossing surface trap?
    8. Why the train cabs aren’t required to be lit up like a Christmas tree with emergency vehicle light bars? LOOK AND SEE!!
    9. Why the front of trains aren’t required to have air bags or something to soften impacts?
    10. Why trains don’t have better braking systems? OLIs message now shows train brakes obviously suck.
    11. Why there are no bidding invitations on the obviously overcharged crossing projects the tax-payers pay the railroads for. $10,000 just to get the equipment to the sight. TRUCKED IN.
    12. Why trains are allowed to run in the fog?
    13. Why the crossings aren’t lit up so drivers can see the black rail cars across the tracks at night?
    14. Why railroads remove and steal signals we paid for on closed re-worked crossings?
    15. Why $$$millions$$$ of the rail safety budget we pay in is wasted on needless reworks at crossings preventing signals where needed?Things a REAL railroad Operation Lifesaver (OL) group would ask!!!
    16. Why the railroad isn’t required to de-ice crossings before they roll the trains?
    17. Why the railroad isn’t required to raise their overpasses so big trucks can get under them? The railroad wants to double stack and our road overpasses are too low—no problem WE PAY MILLIONS.
    18. Why drug/alcohol tests aren’t done on rail crews at crossing/pedestrian collisions?
    19. Why railroads are allowed to get off with the train black box , signal black box (if crossing signals are present), and cab video at crossing/pedestrian collisions?
    20. Why the fact is hidden that trains kill a few thousand people in 100 million train miles when regular drivers have like ONE death?
    21.Why Amtrak passengers aren’t required to look at the despicable shape of the crossings before they board the trains?
    22.Why train horns aren’t blown at private crossings till the last second freezing drivers?
    23.Why the railroads track lights can’t be at a crossing?
    24 .Why railroads need track lights and civilians don’t?
    WAITING FOR OLI/OLI.CA response.