A tractor-trailer carrying an oversized load got stuck at a railroad crossing and was hit by an Amtrak passenger train this week in Halifax, N.C. Luckily, no one was killed, although more than 60 passengers on the train reported injuries, when several of the train’s passenger cars derailed. According to witnesses, the truck, which was reportedly being escorted by a flag vehicle and a state trooper, and was transporting a modular building, had been stuck at the crossing for as long eight minutes prior to the accident.
Image / The State of New Jersey
In 2013, the most recent year of complete federal statistics, 251 people
were killed and 929 injured in 2,087 crossing crashes nationwide.
According to reports, neither Amtrak nor CSX Railroad has indicated that they received any calls regarding a truck being stuck on the track. According to the state transportation secretary, there is a sign at the crossing that provides a phone number to call in the event of an emergency, such as a stranded vehicle. CSX officials have said that they could have stopped the train if they’d received a timely call.
The truck belongs to Guy M. Turner Inc., an industrial transport specialist based in Greensboro, according to one report.
Understandably, there is a long history of trains and motor vehicles colliding at railroad crossings like the one in Halifax. In North Carolina, the law provides that railroad companies have a duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining crossings over public highways, although the State maintains the authority to tell railroad companies when and under what conditions warning devices must be placed at such crossings. Railroad companies must provide reasonably safe conditions that permit safe and convenient passage by drivers exercising ordinary care. However, a railroad company is not an absolute insurer of travelers’ safety and is not expected to maintain a foolproof crossing or a crossing at which no injury is possible. Rather, railroad companies are only liable for injures that are caused by a defect or other condition which exists in its right-of-way over public crossings, and drivers themselves are charged with behaving in a manner which is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances.
North Carolina is one of the few remaining states that recognize the doctrine of contributory negligence, which states that a plaintiff may not recover from a defendant if the plaintiff himself is negligent. When a railroad crosses a public highway, the traveler and the train have equal rights to cross, but the traveler is ordinarily charged with yielding right-of-way to the train. Generally, the mere presence of a railroad crossing is considered to be a warning of potential danger. When a driver is familiar with the area and the crossing, and fails to take the necessary precautions when approaching the crossing, he or she may be more likely to be found contributorily negligent.
Ultimately, there are several lessons to be taken away from this unfortunate accident, but one of the most important may be knowing that there are ways to avoid an accident like this. Simply by calling the number on the posted sign, and informing the train company of the stranded truck, this accident might have been avoided.