The safe side of the tracks: Railroad industry, officials address recent fatalities

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 7, 2007

In November of last year it was a 15-year-old girl from Chelsea, about a month ago a man in Alabaster and recently seven deaths in Chilton County.

Rail industry companies, legislators and various transportation officials said closing rail crossings and educating the public are top on their list to reduce train crash fatalities.

Hank Erwin (R-Montevallo) said the summit was a first step.

&8220;The Chelsea incident proved we need to improve things,&8221; Erwin said. &8220;There are crossings in Shelby County, how many of them I don&8217;t know, that don&8217;t have adequate lighting or crossing guards, and we&8217;ve got to improve that,&8221; Erwin said.

CSX spokesperson Craig Camuso highlighted the need to close what the industry considers redundant crossings. To do this more money would be involved to help municipalities afford the cost of rerouting traffic to other crossings.

There is already a system in place, through the Alabama Department of Transportation, to determine which crossings need attention. Through that formula about $5 million is spent every year to improve dangerous crossings. This means a total of about 30 crossings are worked on every year but there are more than 2000 crossings in the state.

Erwin said that isn&8217;t good enough for some districts like his that have seen multiple deaths.

&8220;Hey, we need to move up the ladder, we need to overcome this formula because we need attention now,&8221; Erwin said.

Education also came up several times during the summit.

&8220;I think we get compliant in our crossings because so many times these are neighborhood crossings and people think they got these trains timed,&8221; said Sgt. Tim Sartain a spokesman for the Alabama State Troopers. &8220;Often just failing to check at the yield signs causes crashes or when they see the red lights flashing they think let me hurry up, instead of stopping.&8221;

Alabama is eighth in the nation for fatalities that occur from vehicle and train wrecks