Local News

Amtrak train hits minivan in Mebane; one killed

Posted December 16, 2014

— Authorities are investigating an accident involving an Amtrak passenger train that hit a minivan Tuesday afternoon in Mebane, killing a woman.

A spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Transportation said passenger train 177575 was traveling west when it hit the Dodge Caravan at a railroad crossing at East Washington Street, near South 5th Street, just before 12:45 p.m.

The impact of the crash pushed the van about two blocks before coming to a stop.

The woman, identified as Doris Miles Pinnix, 80, of Burlington, was the only occupant of the vehicle. No one on the train was injured.

Retired firefighter Frankie Solomon said he was sitting in his truck in front of the tracks when it happened.

"I went to help – that's automatic," he said. "I walked up to the conductors, and I looked and said there's nothing we could do. I got in the car and left to get out of the emergency people's way."

Solomon said others at the scene with him saw the woman stop on the track and try to get her car to move but that it appeared she panicked and could not get off fast enough.

The 5th Street crossing has historically been one of Mebane's worst. Since 2009, there have been two other accidents at that same crossing.

Mebane rail crossings

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Source: Federal Railroad Administration, Office of Safety Analysis, Highway-Rail Crossing Safety & Trespass Prevention. Data is incomplete and is the most recent available.


RANK: Crossings are listed in order and ranked with the highest collision prediction value first.

PRED COLLS: The accident prediction value is the probability that a collision between a train and a highway vehicle will occur at the crossing in a year.

CROSSING: The unique sight specific identifying DOT/AAR Crossing Inventory Number.

RR: The alphabetic abbreviation for the railroad name.

DATE CHG: The date of the latest change of the warning device category at the crossing which impacts the collision prediction calculation, e.g., a change from crossbucks to flashing lights, or flashing lights to gates. The accident prediction calculation utilizes three different formulas, on each for (1) passive devices, (2) flashing lights only, and (3) flashing lights with gates. When a date is shown, the collision history prior to the indicated year-month is not included in calculating the accident prediction value.

W D: The type of warning device shown on the current Inventory record for the crossing where:
FQ=Four Quad Gates; GT = All Other Gates; FL = Flashing lights; HS = Wigwags, Highway
Signals, Bells, or Other Activated; SP = Special Protection (e.g., a flagman); SS = Stop Signs;
XB = Crossbucks; OS = Other Signs or Signals; NO = No Signs or Signals.

TOT TRNS: Number of total trains per day.

TOT TRKS: Total number of railroad tracks between the warning devices at the crossing.

TTBL SPD: The maximum timetable (allowable) speed for trains through the crossing.

HWY PVD: Is the highway paved on both sides of the crossing?

HWY LNS: The number of highway traffic lanes crossing the tracks at the crossing.

AADT: The Average Annual Daily Traffic count for highway vehicles using the crossing.


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  • sinenomine Dec 17, 2014

    Re-reading the story the eyewitness said the car stopped on the tracks and that the driver "[tried] to get her car to move".

    This could be interpreted to say that the car may have stalled on the track rather than the driver purposely stopped there.

    Once many years ago I was a passenger in a car which stalled on a track in Alexandria VA. As the driver was trying to restart the car I saw a locomotive come into view around the bend. The car started and we got away in time but I was within seconds of bailing. I think there is some aspect of human nature at work in cases like this - you think you have time when in fact you don't. Part of the situation owes to the fact that the train, due to its size, gives the illusion of going slower than it actually is and a driver's perceptions are working against him or her.

  • Thomas Fenske Dec 17, 2014
    user avatar

    I get the impression from the description that the gate came down as she was either sitting on or crossing the track and she panicked and didn't know what to do. You just push through and break the gate, either forward or backward.
    Contrary to what somebody else said, I very rarely see anybody actually stop on these tracks. In fact I can't remember the last time I ever saw that, especially at this crossing. There is a light on the North side and room for one car on that side. This is a very wide crossing with good visibility. So many trains come through that track, the locals are very aware of the danger.

  • LocalYokel Dec 17, 2014

    Definitely a tragedy but stopping on the tracks is not something I would describe as an "accident". Allegedly a driver died because they drove badly, breaking a traffic law.

    If you break traffic laws then you may not have the perception, patience, and discipline it takes to operate a motor vehicle in public. Please consider not driving for the safety of yourself and, more importantly, the safety of others.

  • 3TeensGrowinUp2Fast Dec 16, 2014

    I feel sad for the person who died and his/her family, but let's not forget the person driving the train. He or she will have to live with that image...these guys who drive these trains know they can't possibly stop in time. This person was in a car - how about the people who (on purpose or by accident) end up standing/walking on the tracks and get struck - what kind of image is that for the person driving the train?

  • tri123 Dec 16, 2014

    I end up at one crossing semi regularly and every time I am there someone is stopped on the train tracks. And heaven help you when you do stop on the limit line- everyone expects you to just drive onto the tracks. I have had an angry driver swerve around me so they can have the spot on the tracks.

  • Duff Dry Dec 16, 2014

    We were on this train a few days ago! Very sorry for the family's loss.

  • Grand Union Dec 16, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Faster than its a good idea to get in front of one....... yet I've often seen people sit on the tracks at red lights, seemingly oblivious to the fact that a train could come at any moment..............

  • TheseBootsWereMadeForWalking Dec 16, 2014

    Sad for the family but people need to learn not to stop/park on the tracks.

  • Thomas Hannan Dec 16, 2014
    user avatar

    68_DODGE_POLARA -"How fast was the train traveling through town?"

    There is a speed limit in towns but train speed was not the cause of the accident. By definition, trains have the right of way.

  • nclgw Dec 16, 2014

    How very sad indeed....for the family of someone who for whatever reason thought they could get across the tracks before the train....and the train engineer who now has to live with the knowledge and the visual of someone dying under his train. All at the holidays. Trains cannot stop on a dime....