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Man Says Railroad Crossing Poorly Marked After Father Injured In Accident

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A truck driver injured when he was hit by a train is still in the hospital.

Mike Howell is in good condition, which is amazing given how his fertilizer truck was ripped apart.

Monday, Howell's son said the accident never would have happened if the railroad crossing was better marked.

Some crossings have gates and lights. Some are well-marked. But that is in stark contrast to the crossing Howell tried to drive across Friday near Goldsboro.

He never made it to the other side.

A train hit his truck. Hit may be an understatement.

The truck was destroyed.

"(The train) knocked the transmission slam out of the truck," said Howell's son, Chad.

Looking at the truck Monday, it was hard hard to imagine anyone inside it.

"I don't know whether you can see it or not," Chad Howell said, peering inside what was left of the vehicle. "But it's got blood all over it.

"It took about 45 minutes to actually cut him out of the truck."

Mike Howell not only survived the crash, but he was listed in good condition Monday at Duke Medical Center.

The crash occured Friday at the Wayne County/Johnston County line. Mike Howell knows the crossing well because it is just a hundred yards from the fertilizer plant where he works.

The crossing was marked only with a sign. During the crash, the sign snapped like a toothpick and wound up in the truck.

Only a third of all public crossings in North Carolina have lights and gates.

"I understand it costs somewhere around $120,000 to have (lights and gates)," Chad Howell said. "My dad's life and other people's lives are worth a whole lot more than that to their families."

Said Paul Worley of the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Rail Division: "Money is the factor."

Worley said the state does the best with the money it has. He said it has added gates and lights to many crossings.

According to Worley, ensuring safety at a train crossing "comes down to driver behavior." He said there have been no accidents at the crossing where Mike Howell was hit for at least 10 years, although the state will review it.

A couple of years ago, the state made a pledge to make crossings safer. If the numbers are any indication, it is working.

In 1995, 152 vehicles collided with trains at crossings. Since then, the state has upgraded more than 500 crossings with gates and/or flashing lights. Here's the impact last year: the number of accidents at crossings down to 78.

Upgrades weren't the only solution. The DOT has closed more than 80 railroad-highway crossings since 1993.

In Raleigh, the Bashford Road crossing was among those shut down. Over a 10-year span starting in 1991, six people died at the crossing on the small access road off Hillsborough Street.

Chad Howell blames the crossing for his father's wreck. He said there is a blind spot at the crossing in addition to the fact that it has no lights and gates.

There are pieces of the truck still scattered around the track near the accident site. Mike Howell's keys still dangle from the ignition of the crumpled truck, and the speedometer is stuck at 15.

Meanwhile, Chad Howell feels the state is stuck with an outdated crossing.

"It's horrendous," he said.


Scott Mason, Reporter
Robert Meikle, Photographer
Paul Ensslin, Web Editor

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