Railroads have played a large role in the growth of the United States. Where railroad tracks cross roads have played a role in many accidents, some of them fatal. Tracks and a crossing were involved Wednesday morning when a Texas trucker lost his life.
The Middle Road railroad crossing in the city of Dunkirk was the scene as the operator of the semi truck, Randolph Todd, 51, of Shepherd, Texas, failed to get across the tracks before an Amtrak passenger train hit his rig and killed him.
There are laws regarding crossings, both for railroads and drivers. Unfortunately for Todd, and other drivers who have been hit by trains, trains don't lose.
Even if you're familiar with the crossing, as Todd was after making several deliveries to the Ralston Purina facility, there is little margin for error.
"This terrible tragedy should serve as a reminder regarding the dangers of driving around railroad gates that are down, and also that it is a violation of law under the New York State Vehicle & Traffic Law to do so," Dunkirk Police Chief David Ortolano said Wednesday after the tragedy.
Article 29 Section 1170 is titled "Obedience to signal indicating approach of train."
"Whenever any person driving a vehicle approaches a railroad grade crossing under any of the circumstances stated in this section, the driver of such vehicle shall stop not less than fifteen feet from the nearest rail of such railroad, and shall not proceed until he can do so safely," it states in part.
It also states: "No person shall drive any vehicle through, around, or under any crossing gate or barrier at a railroad crossing while such gate or barrier is closed or is being opened or closed."
Fines for a first conviction are not less than $150 nor more than $250, or imprisonment for not more than 30 days or a combination of both. A second conviction within a period of 18 months will net a fine of not less than $350 nor more than $500, or imprisonment for not more than 90 days, or by both. A third such conviction within 18 months will net a fine between $600 and $750 or 180 days in jail, or both.
CSX owns the rail lines and crossing where the accident occurred.
"We express our sympathy and concern to the family of the driver killed in the accident," CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said Wednesday. "Beyond that, we're cooperating fully in the investigation with local authorities."
Statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis show a total of 30 incidents occurred in 2010 at railroad crossing in the state, including 16 involving automobiles and three involving truck-trailers. CSX tracks and crossings were involved in 14 of the incidents.
Chautauqua County had a total of eight incidents from 2007 to 2010, with one listed for last year.
Nationwide, there was a total of 1,664 highway-rail incidents listed for 2010, including 241 involving truck-trailers. A total of 229 fatalities were counted in 2010, including two in New York state.
Ortolano couldn't recall a similar accident at the Middle Road site.
"We had one about five years ago, not a vehicle but a person on the tracks, walking on the tracks out there by Middle Road," he stated. "As far as vehicles, I can't remember any."
All-in-all, the numbers show trains will win over other vehicles in a collision - every time.