An Amtrak train bound for New York ran into a dump truck Tuesday afternoon near Rush Street in south Raleigh. Witnesses say the dump truck ignored the crossing gates, which were down, and tried to cross the track.
Seventy-six accidents involving trains were reported last year in North Carolina; 12 people died.
Paul Worley, of the state Department of Transportation's Rail Division, said motorists who drive around lowered crossing gates are dangerously common, so often the state has to take measures like closing certain crossings statewide or adding enhanced devices to make them safer.
Worley said the DOT works to try to make crossings more fool-proof, but that it is ultimately up to the driver to follow the rules of the road.
"We work to close crossings statewide, to grade separate crossings, to make crossing safer with enhanced devices," he said.
The DOT contends that the only real way to stop accidents would be to close down crossings. They say they have done that about 100 times over the past 13 years, but it is very expensive and they usually face community opposition.
"Crossing a railroad track with a moving train would be like crossing a runway at RDU," said Scott Saylor, president of the North Carolina Railroad Co. "It takes an airplane about a mile to stop; it takes a train that's going 55 mph about a mile to stop."
Saylor fears that until other drivers stop and think about the consequences, more accidents like Tuesday's will keep happening.
Police say Chris McCullough, 34, of Garner; and Keith Spence, 33, of Raleigh, both of whom were on the dump truck Tuesday, died in the accident. At least 15 people from the train were taken to WakeMed with minor injuries.
"All of a sudden, my tray was down and I banged my cheek on the right tray," said 11-year-old Aaron Keith.
Officials were able to remove the final rail car shortly before noon Wednesday. Temporary repair work at the Rush Street rail crossing is expected to continue until 9 a.m. Thursday. The railroad is also expected to be closed during part of the day on Friday.
Despite the accident, Amtrak said service will not be interrupted Wednesday. Meanwhile, Amtrak has set up a hotline (800) 523-9101 for family members looking for information.
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