Skip to comments.Track crew accidentally turned off crossing gates, lights before fatal crash, probes say
Posted on 04/19/2010 7:28:45 PM PDT by Chet 99
A track crew inadvertently turned off the gates and warning lights at a rail crossing in University Park late last week, shortly before a deadly crash in which a train blindsided an SUV driven by a Chicago woman, according to the preliminary federal and state investigation disclosed on Monday.
"This was human error,'' said an investigator, who asked not to be identified.
Last week, the Canadian National Railway crew was working on signals and electrical circuits connected to a track-switching mechanism being built near the crossing when workers shut down all warnings to motorists about approaching trains, the investigator said.
Also, a video camera aboard the four-car Amtrak train that struck and killed Katie Lunn, 26, on Friday night corroborated the preliminary findings, officials said.
The video, shot from the train's locomotive as it was traveling nearly 79 mph, clearly shows that the barrier gates, flashing lights and bells at the Stuenkel Road crossing near Governors Highway did not turn on, federal and state investigators said.
(Excerpt) Read more at chicagotribune.com ...
This almost always means that a train is not coming...almost...
Katie Lunn, age 26
Dance Ensemble Company Manager
Katie is a graduate of Oklahoma City University where she recieved her degree in dance management. She has danced for the Ameican Spirit Dance Company as well as the Oklahoma City University Pep Dancers. Katie has also danced professionally, as well as choreographed, for the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz Arena Football Dance Team. Katie has also been blessed with many opportunities to hold management positions, such as assistant stage manager and assistant childrens director, for several Oklahoma City University's American Spirit Dance Company's performances. Katie is extremely excited that she is joining the SPA staff and is blessed to have yet another wonderful opportunity to share her love of dance.
This just sucks. Condolences to the young woman’s family.
This is one that will certainly never go to court, and they’ll just hand her family over a truck full of cash.
I slow down at RR Tracks and look both ways. To those that insist at flying across RR tracks... Don’t play with trains....
Always assume there could be a faulty RR switch, etc...
There was nothing faulty here.
This is an incident that resulted from total negligence.
RE: dragnet2 wrote:
There was nothing faulty here.
This is an incident that resulted from total negligence.
It is like something from Ayn Rand ... incompetence rewarded leads to innocents’ death.
We all roll our windows down (even in the rain) and listen for the train. We look both ways before crossing.
Even leaving aside obvious negligence like this case, equipment fails and malfunctions.
The railroad is very sensitive about this crossing because it's a busy one on a main drag into the city. They have crews out several times a week checking the gates here, and you'll often see a CSX truck parked at the crossing just keeping an eye on things.
Stuff STILL goes wrong. They have an 800 number posted on the gates to call in case of a malfunction. I call it about once every month or so - gates stuck down or (worse) stuck open with lights flashing and bells ringing. After an hour or so everybody just ignores the lights and bells. The first thing CSX does in that case is put a go-slow order on all the trains.
Sooner or later somebody's going to get hit, it's been since the late 80s when somebody jumped the gate at the next crossing 2 miles up the line . . . but we had a close call about 2 years ago. Go slow order saved the day.
The other scary thing is that the two main crossings here are the only "no horn" crossings in the state. Four gates, European style, so the train doesn't pull for the crossing. Which scares the heck out of me, that horn is one more safety factor.
Westbound we have good sight lines in both directions, but eastbound you can't see more than 50 yards up the track to the south and the trees are right up against the road to the north. So we listen with all our ears. Fortunately there's a crossing 2 miles north and another crossing which is NOT a no-horn crossing about 1/2 mile north, so you can hear a southbound train pull the whistle for the middle crossing. Thank goodness.
I've gotten to where I can tell from the sound of the diesel motors whether it's a slow or a fast freight.
But they do, unfortunately.
People expect things like trains and planes to be safe and expect those that operate and run them to keep them safe...Just the way it is.
Me personally? On approach to intersections with green lights, my foot is off the accelerator, and hovering over the brake, watching for broadside and left turn killers....Things like intersections are mass murderers.
I hear ya, I drive defensively all the time.
I would much rather let Mother Nature take me out naturally than some loose screwball :-)
School buses are required to stop at the crossing, and open the door to listen for the trains.
The trains are required to blow their whistles (except we have some intersections now where they trains don’t late at night, but they are labelled with signs so motoroists know to be extra careful.
I do fly across tracks, but I always glance both ways, and I’m pretty sure I’d notice a train barreling down. Of course, that assumes a good sight line.
In my opinion, it should be impossible to shut down the gate power without lowering the gates. That would be a pain for motorists, but then the people working on the tracks would have to go manually raise the gates, which would make it clear to them that they had shut off the gates.
There should also be an alarm when the gates are off. Maybe even a blinking light set powered by batteries, in case there is a general power failure.
THAT is a really good idea. I wonder if I ought to call the trainmaster and suggest it.
I live in a relatively flat part of Wisconsin and you can see at least a mile up and down the track as you approach a RR crossing. Not everyone slows down but most do, not because of approaching trains though. It seems the railroads are responsible for maintaining the narrow strip of highway between the gates. State/County crews will not touch that area and for good reason. On the other hand, RR crews very seldom pull maintenance either with the consequence that the crossings are usually in a terrible state of repair. When they finally get around to fixing things, they don't stay fixed for long as the constant pounding causes the roadbed to move with the passing freight cars. It's scary to sit at a crossing and watch the rails flex 4 to 6 inches as the wheel trucks roll down the line.
There was a time when government subsidized the railroads, that time has long passed and it shows. The flow of government money has shifted to interstate roads (trucking) and regional airports (air freight), neither of which can move the thousands of tons of coal a day needed to keep a central power plant operating. So the railroad slowly returns to rust.
I usually take the long view up & down the track from a quarter mile away and then hit the throttle so that I literally fly through the gate without touching the muffler grabbing, chuck hole ridden surface.
Don't get me started about gates stuck in the down position w/ lights flashing and bells clanging for days at a time. No wonder people drive around the cross-bucks, sometimes you have no choice.
As someone who lives near a railroad crossing, I'm not exactly a fan of the horns at 2am.
Why not have a signal light on the tracks before the crossing which indicates that the crossing is working correctly, along with signage: "IF LIGHT IS NOT FLASHING, SOUND HORN AND SLOW TO ___MPH."(*) I understand that if the crossing gates and lights aren't working the horn provides some safety factor, but if the lights and gates are working, I fail to see how the horn does anything other than add annoyance.
(*) That would be the simplest means of letting people sleep without adversely affecting safety. An alternative, if the trains on a route would be equipped with standardized "navigation" equipment, would be to have the gates communicate their status to the locomotive via wireless or other means. That could provide an engineer greater notice of a gate that could be expected to fail (e.g. because it doesn't have power).
We moved here in 1994, the no-horn gates weren't installed until last year. Our house is 3 houses down the first street from the crossing. The blowpost for southbound trains stands 185 yards from our bedroom window (or so says my trusty Bushnell rangefinder).
I didn't mind the horns. It was kinda nostalgic. We had 37 trains a day, plus specials. The first couple of weeks we lived here it was annoying, after that we didn't even notice. Slept right through, even with the bedroom windows open.
With that said, I used to investigate crossing accidents for the old Southern Railroad. Your suggestion simply adds more electronics and more things to go wrong, plus a sign that nobody will read. Our almost-accident a few years ago was an idiot who drove around a large "CROSSING CLOSED" sign. We were walking our dogs when he drove his jeep onto the crossing - they had removed the asphalt to repave, and he drove right into the hole and his front bumper stuck under the first rail. About that time we heard the horn two crossings north . . . .
My husband dove into the Jeep and forcibly hauled the man out, while I hared home with the dogs and brought back our Expedition and a logging chain. Hubby was just hooking up the chain to the Jeep's rear bumper when the headlight came around the curve. Fortunately the engineer was under a go-slow order and brought his train to a halt about 50 feet from the Jeep. The engineer was cussin' mad, needless to say.
You can't fix stupidity.
The European gate does prevent anyone from jumping the crossing if the gates are working properly. But old Murphy hangs around railroad crossings a lot.
My house is less than 100yds from the track, about 100yds before a crossing. I'm not sure of the train's exact position when it sounds the horn, but it's loud.
Your suggestion simply adds more electronics and more things to go wrong, plus a sign that nobody will read.
The sign would be for the engineer. If an engineer cannot be trusted to read signage, he shouldn't be driving a train. I'm not sure I see a particular difficulty with designing the system so that in case of failure the light for the engineer would definitely not blink. And in that case if the engineer is doing his job he will sound the horn (if the engineer can't be relied upon to sound the horn if the light isn't blinking, how can he be relied upon to sound the horn in any case).
Our almost-accident a few years ago was an idiot who drove around a large "CROSSING CLOSED" sign.
How often would having the engineer sound his horn make any difference.
A few years ago I was traveling down a county road that run parallel to a RR track.
I noticed someone working on the box near the tracks while approaching a intersection with a green light and the green light turned red without warning. No yellow, no 3 second wait, nothing. The lady in front slammed on the brakes but the car behind her slammed into her. I managed to only tap the lady in front of me by screaming to a stop.
I looked up after the crash and both lights were now green both ways.
About 10 seconds later the lights seemed to go back into a normal cycle and the assclown working on the RR lights drove off.
I was ticketed and the LEO refused to believe someone was screwing with the lights. AT my court hearing the judge checked the logs for the local maintenance crews and tossed my ticket, still cost me $500.00 in a deducible to fix my car
When a problem with our crossing gates is reported, the trainmaster issues go-slow orders and all trains go back to sounding the horn until the problem is corrected.
I just feel better with the horn - one more chance for me to be warned of the train, if the crossing signals aren't working and somehow the engineer doesn't get the word. But most of the neighborhood is just annoyed by the noise.
We almost had time to get that Jeep off the crossing when we heard the horn, if I hadn't had to throw the dogs in the house before I got in the truck we would have done it.
Thanks for the insightful look in your neck of the woods.
I’m out here in california ( yea i know the politicians suck) :-)
But out here I only have view of the railroad tracks about 10 feet either way sometimes, as the path down the railway is blocked but fencing/buldings/bushes/ (you name it), so the only way to really see what is coming down the tracks is to actually slow down.
I do turn off the radio and open the windows usually as i approach the train tracks and slow down to about 20mph or less if there is no visibility either way.
Luckily the trains know to slow down to a crawl as some of the roads don’t have signals and some of the tracks are in poor condition (as you mentioned).
Better safe than sorry, right? :o)
I live a block from a crossing on the CSX mainline. We go back and forth over it many times daily.
If the transmitter works, people near the tracks are spared the noise of the horn. If the transmitter fails, the engineer sounds the horn as he would if the system did not exist. If the system is designed to fail "safe" (which would not seem overly difficult) what's the problem?
It's not. No system involving electronics is EVER "fail safe". About 4 months ago, they put up signs under the yellow RR crossing warning signs: "NO TRAIN HORN". They're trying to cover their posteriors for when the gate fails, but I don't think drivers are going to understand that that means "LISTEN" doesn't apply here.
It fails on a conservative estimate about once a month. The window between the failure of the gates and when the trainmaster notifies the engineers is the window where a fatal accident is going to happen, sooner or later.
Duplication of systems (gates, crossing bells and lights, train horn, train bell) is the best way to cover that window.
The train was here LONG before this suburb existed. I had no problem with proximity to the southbound horn from 1994 to last year. I used to investigate crossing accidents, and when you've taken photographs of some poor moke's remains crushed inside his car a few times, it gives you a different perspective.
As I said, I didn't mind the horn a bit, it's fairly regular so you get used to it. After 2 weeks they didn't even wake us up any more.
If a system is "fail safe", that means that a failure will not create a hazardous condition. For example, if the system included a couple accelerometers for each gate along with a couple of current sensor for the lights, and those devices were to all report their status to a couple of differently-designed processors, each controlling a relay that feeds the "no horn needed" light, there are many ways the system could fail such that the light wouldn't illuminate, but if that occurs the only effect will be that the engineer sounds the horn. For the system to fail so as to create a hazard, either the lights would somehow have to draw the right amount of current while not illuminating and the accelerometers would have to report the gates were at the proper angle even though they weren't, or else both receiving processors would have to fail simultaneously at the same time as the crossing gates failed. Highly unlikely.