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N.C. Installs New Safety Devices to Derail Train Wrecks

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RALEIGH — State transportation officials are working to reduce train-car accidents. North Carolina is one of the first states to invest millions into improving an entire rail corridor.

Paul Worley, a member of theDepartment of Transportation Rail Division, says the deadly train accident in Illinois could easily happen in the Tar Heel state.

He analyzes surveillance video of North Carolina train crossings to determine motorists' habits. He said that a lot of motorists "just go right around the gates," and that he has seen several cars come very close to causing a severe train wreck.

Transportation officials say many impatient motorists speed across tracks trying to beat a train, but that they often miscalculate its speed.

"It's an optical illusion: a train is large and it's on a fixed rail, it's extremely difficult to judge the speed of a train," says Sgt. Jeff Winstead with theN.C. Highway Patrol.

DOTofficials are using new devices to try to keep drivers off the tracks. For example, one crossing near Charlotte has longer arms, barriers and a surveillance camera that catches drivers in the act.

The federal government has given the state close to $9 million to increase safety at railroad crossings between Charlotte and Raleigh.

In Raleigh, DOT officials are constructing quadrant gates at the Blue Ridge - Hillsborough Street intersection. Studies have shown that four gates keep more drivers out of the path of oncoming trains.

"For instance, median barriers produce a 77 percent reduction of violations," Worley said. "Four quadrant gates produce 86 percent."

Most North Carolina road crossings still do not have gates. Of all 5,000 public crossings, only about 30 percent have flashing lights and gates.

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Ericka Lewis, Reporter
Gil Hollingsworth, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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