A deadly disaster was narrowly averted when a train slammed into a semi-truck as the truck attempted to make a turn in Kernersville, North Carolina. The Norfolk Southern train was traveling westbound at Graves Street when it collided with the tractor-trailer.
The driver of the semi-truck miraculously avoided serious injury and was on hand while emergency crews removed the wreckage of his destroyed trailer and cargo.
There are no crossing gates or signal lights at the Kernersville railroad crossing where the crash occurred. Although officials have not spoken about whether that factored into the collision, safety advocates have voiced concerns about a lack of adequate crossing warnings across the country. Many argue that better visibility for approaching trains, as well as gates and lights could drastically reduce the number of injury and fatality-causing train crashes that happen each year.
Truck Driver Said He Did Not See Norfolk Southern Train Approaching as He Entered Crossing
Fifty-eight-year-old Dale Eddinger, the owner of Dale Eddinger Transportation of Lexington, was traveling on Graves Street at approximately 1:40 p.m. when he attempted to make a right turn into the entrance to Best Logistics Group. As he turned, the train hit his truck. The entrance to the industrial complex crosses the railroad tracks, where the speed limit for trains is 25 mph. Officials have not said what speed the train involved was traveling at.
Susan Terpay, a spokesperson with the Norfolk Southern Corp., who owns the train, said that it had two locomotives and 15 rail cars and was traveling west.
Eddinger told investigators that he had not seen or heard the train coming as he prepared to make the right turn, and because the crossing has no gates or warning lights, there was no other notification (beyond the constant warning sign).
“When I got on the track, I was committed,” Eddinger told the Winston-Salem Journal. “He blew his horn four or five times, but I couldn’t get out of his way.”
The train barreled into Eddinger’s semi-truck and a terrified Eddinger waited it out in the cab of the vehicle.
“I didn’t know how close the train was to me,” he said. “It sounded like he was coming through my window.”
It was ultimately the trailer of Eddinger’s big rig that sustained the most damage, caving in from impact and tipping onto its side. The cab suffered some damage as well, and reports say Eddinger had minor injuries.
The train’s engineer and conductor have not been identified, but neither were injured in the collision.
Impact from Kernersville Train Crash Tore into Trailer, Spilling Out 43,000 Pounds of Soap
Eddinger was transporting 43,000 pounds of soap to Triad Warehouse and Cold Storage when the Kernersville train crash occurred. Haz-Mat crews, Fritts Towing and Recovery and Fulp’s Wrecker Service also aided in the clearing efforts.
Images from the scene show the entire walls of the trailer ripped apart, exposing boxes of the soap, while the cab sits at a precarious angle in the direction of the impact. Several individuals are shown working with large equipment to help assemble and clear the wreckage, and Eddinger himself is pictured back in the semi’s driver seat as it is about to be towed away.
Rail Crossings Have Long Been Area of Concern for FRA, but Change Has Been Slow
According to a December 16, 2016, fact sheet from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) a staggering 94% of rail-related fatalities in 2015 were due to trespasser/highway rail crossings. The agency also said, more recently on January 13, 2017, that 232 people died in railroad crossing accidents in the U.S. in 2016.
The FRA has focused most of the attention on preventing these accidents toward vehicle drivers, who can stop more easily than trains. A media campaign called “Stop! Trains Can’t” was created to more awareness of the dangers of railroad crossing, especially in young males. Placing full focus on drivers, however, ignores the role that many feel railroads play in the dangers of railroad crossings.
Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg briefly touched on that component of the issue when the agency launched the campaign.
“Education is key here—sometimes a driver is distracted, or in an unfamiliar area,” Feinberg said in a statement. “Other times, the state highway department has not done enough to warn drivers they are approaching a crossing.”
Therein lies the problem. Some crossings have limited visibility for oncoming trains and only a simple sign to alert drivers to the presence of trains in the area. Crossing gates and flashing lights can reduce the risks but are often not installed. In some cases, even when those elements have been installed the railroad has failed to properly maintain them. This also creates a train safety hazard.
A New York Times investigative report found that a fatal Union Pacific train collision at a crossing had been the result of a defective signal, a fact that the railroad then tried to cover up by having a railroad manager swap out components of the signal before it could be examined.
The report went on to say that findings suggest that railroads often chose not to investigate or take responsibility for crossing accidents.