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News is breaking out of Colorado yesterday about a collision between a westbound Amtrak train (the Southwest Chief, heading from Chicago to Los Angeles) and a Chrysler Town and Country minivan at an at-grade railroad crossing. As I’ve been reading the coverage, the accident happened on Las Animas County Road 75, about 3 miles north of Trinidad, Colorado. Inside the minivan was a husband and wife and their 4 children. 5 of the occupants were killed while a 4 year old girl was injured and is currently in stable condition.
If you look at the Google Maps satellite view, if I am reading the coverage correctly, the crossing is on a rural road with no gate or any other visible barrier. According to the Denver Post, the railroad crossing is the site of at least 6 crossing incidents since 1986 and was “awaiting improvements”
There is news coverage from 9News, more from the Denver Post, and CNN among others.
There is also discussion over at the Amtrak Unlimited forums, including reports from a few people that were on the train. Nobody on the train was injured.
Stop… look…. listen
I was actually thinking about this a few weeks ago when I was doing some research at Operation Lifesaver about the number of train accidents. There are about 2,000 collisions and over 200 fatalities a year from railroad crossing incidents. I was actually surprised that the number was so high. Living in the suburban area that I do, nearly 100% of all train crossings I encounter have gates and are well marked. I know that you should never try to “race” a train to a crossing, and we’ll unfortunately likely never know if that was a factor in this crossing or if it was a matter of the driver not seeing the train until it was too late.
While I definitely always stop for RR crossings, and I do visually scan the area as I’m crossing, I’m not sure I always slow down and properly listen (again, I am almost never crossing in a completely open crossing such as this one). But I guess this is a wakeup call to be careful!
Condolences to the Miller family (no relation) on this heartbreaking tragedy – there is a GoFundMe set up for the victims and family, if you’re so inclined
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I agree this is a tragedy. One minute they are on the way to church and the next, dead. Apparently they failed to stop at the crossing that had only the cross-buck signs due to rural area. Makes me wonder if the Amtrak trains are more quiet than regular freight trains and could have been a factor. Sad.
Before the predictable trolls start blaming Amtrak, this could as easily have been a freight train involved.
Amtrak doesn’t own any railroad tracks in the West. They use existing freight lines. American rail lines are predominantly owned by freight companies that care nothing about safety.
Riding last week on the FrecciaRosse in Italy, I was reminded of a quote from William Kunstler, “we have a [passenger] railroad system the Bulgarians would be ashamed of!” and it’s because we venerate the automobile and the airplane and will subsidize them to the moon in million ways. But you talk about public rail and Americans show an insane bias.
I think I saw a quote from the freight company that owns the track that they don’t use it currently for freight and that there are only 2 trains per day that cross, the Southwest Chief west and eastbound.
Whoever owns that track is responsible. Not the train engineer and not Amtrak. Heartbreaking.
The picture of the girls is just heartbreaking. Prayers for all involved.
So very, very sad…… In my area of Virginia, we have multiple routes where Amtrak runs….. and they are popular, beautiful routes, truly breathtaking (and yes, I’d guess 95% of the miles through rural lands)
While in grad school, I drove school bus for several seasons…. remember well the training on railroad crossings — at grade, and we have so many of them….. just within our county, dozens and dozens of them….. Some frankly scared the wits out of me, even with the greatest of care, even with opening doors, looking all ways…. those nearly blind l-turns onto rail crossings, the stuff of waking nightmares.
The accident #’s you quote are eye-opening yes, but to me, I’m only “surprised” there’s not more of such terrible collisions. I, for one, am a great rail supporter….. yet one wonders with all the techno wonders out there if something more could be done, to bring 150 year old transport technology into this century. one wonders how they do this in the rest of the world, where trains are twice as fast (and more)….. stray thoughts.
My family and I were on this train. The accident was incredibly, incredibly sad. On the train, you couldn’t even tell there was an impact at all… just an emergency stop. The passengers on the train didn’t know exactly what happened for a long time. When the engineer made an announcement that the train had struck a vehicle nothing more was said but you could hear in his voice that it was very bad. My heart breaks for this man also. I cannot imagine how it would feel to be in his position. My husband and I had noticed that the train horn had been blowing non-stop for awhile and at the time we were a bit perplexed as to why but now I believe that was due to the area having many of these no-lights/no-arms crossings. I overheard another crew person saying that they had reported this crossing several times before… I got the impression that perhaps the county was responsible for marking the crossings. I am also guilty of not always checking carefully at RR crossings. I know even the ones with signals malfunction, but it’s just something I take for granted. I’ll never feel the same at a train intersection again.
Kate – it’s truly a tragedy. Thanks for sharing your perspective.