Local News

Driver safety warnings follow second train crash in a month

Posted December 23, 2009 12:23 p.m. EST
Updated December 23, 2009 6:05 p.m. EST

— As members of the state Highway Patrol and DOT continued their investigation into a fatal train-car collision Wednesday, the agencies issued a reminder to drivers that they share the responsibility for railroad crossing safety.

Investigators said Erin Brett Lindsay-Calkins, 26, and her 5-year-old son, Nicholas Lindsay, died after Lindsay-Calkins drove under the crossing arms. Her Toyota was on the tracks when the train hit.

Lindsay-Calkins worked at Duke's Center for Aging until she left to go on maternity leave.  Nicholas went to school at Central Elementary in Hillsborough.

Lindsay-Calkins' baby, 4-month-old Aven Brooke Lindsay-Calkins, survived the wreck. She was transported to UNC Hospitals where she was listed in good condition Wednesday afternoon.

Troopers said all three occupants of the car were properly restrained.

DOT spokesman Paul Worley said Wednesday that the crossing, at Southern Drive and Mount Willing Road in Efland, is similar to the site of a Durham crash that happened Dec. 10. In that wreck, brothers Calvin Brandon, 9, and Hassan Bingham, 6, died when their mother's Ford Explorer was hit by a train.

Despite the recent tragedies and posted warnings, not all drivers are exercising caution, observers say.

Stephen Stiebel works across from the tracks in Efland. “I see cars and trucks try to beat it,” he said. He said he's even seen trucks run into the arms and break them.

"I can't believe it. I'm absolutely appalled. It's just amazing," he said.

"People just don't realize that paying attention at a crossing is a matter of life or death,” said Carol Steckbeck. She represents Operation Lifesaver, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing deaths and injuries on railways.

Steckbeck said North Carolina ranks among the top 15 states for train collisions because of the number of railroad tracks in the state.

Her key piece of advice: “If you can't have enough room in front of you to clear the crossing safely, don't even start across."

She offered these additional safety tips:

  • Always expect a train at any crossing – avoid all distractions.
  • Do not get trapped on the tracks: only proceed through the crossing if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping.
  • Because of their size and weight, trains can't stop quickly – they can take up to a mile or more to stop.
  • If you see a train approaching, stop. It is actually closer and moving faster than what appears. At multiple track crossings, watch out for a second train approaching from either direction.
  • If your vehicle stalls on the tracks, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks. Look for an emergency number at the crossing to notify authorities to stop any on-coming trains, or call 911 or your local law enforcement agency for assistance.

Those who live and work near the crossing in Efland said they have often reported problems with the signals not working.

A spokeswoman for Norfolk Southern said that the crossing signals were in working order at the time of the crash. Susan Teerpay said the railroad company is not aware of any issues at that intersection.

DOT spokesman Paul Worley said the state was not aware of any problems with the crossing either. The last wreck at that crossing was in January 1980.