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 ...
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.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.