Local News

DOT to upgrade rail crossing where brothers killed

Posted April 7, 2010 1:34 p.m. EDT
Updated April 7, 2010 7:06 p.m. EDT

— The state Department of Transportation and Durham officials plan to improve a rail crossing where two brothers were killed in December when a train slammed into their mother's SUV.

The DOT's Rail Division will rework the railroad signals and synchronize them with new traffic signals at the adjacent intersections of Ellis Road with Angier Avenue and Pettigrew Street. The signals will take into account approaching trains, peak traffic volume and potential delays, officials said.

Paul Worley, director of Engineering and Safety with the DOT's Rail Division, said heavy traffic on Ellis Road leads drivers to take more chances at the railroad crossing and end up stopped between the crossing bars.

That's what happened to Deborah Bingham on Dec. 9 when an Amtrak train bound for Charlotte hit her SUV.

Police said she was stuck in traffic at the crossing when the arm came down on the windshield of her SUV. She tried to back up and move forward to get off the tracks, but the train hit the back end of her Explorer before she could finish maneuvering.

Bingham suffered minor injuries, but her two sons, Calvin Brandon, 9, and Hassan Bingham, 6, were thrown from the vehicle and died.

The new signals will give drivers more time to evade an oncoming train.

"When a train comes, it will give early warning to the traffic signals to flush out that intersection of traffic before the gates come down and a train comes through," he said.

The DOT installed "Do Not Stop on Tracks" signs at the crossing two days after the wreck to reinforce a safety message for drivers.

Worley said construction and installation of new traffic signals could take 12 to 18 months, and the project is estimated to cost $500,000.

The DOT eventually plans to close the Ellis Road crossing once an alternative can be developed and funded, officials said. The agency and Durham officials plan to undertake a comprehensive study of all at-grade crossings within the city limits in the coming year to identify near- and long-term safety and traffic mobility needs.