Every location where a set of railroad tracks crosses a road is the potential site of a crash with a car, truck, bicycle or pedestrian — usually a deadly or permanently disabling crash. My Carolina personal injury and wrongful death law firm colleagues know this from our decades of experience representing victims of railroad grade crossing collisions. People who live, work and attend school near grade crossings see the risks daily. Train crews also know the horror of irreversible tragedies all too well, as few engineers, conductors or brakemen go through even a brief career without being involved in a fatal wreck at a grade crossing.
Everyone, then, should welcome a recent update on North Carolina’s decadelong project to eliminate railroad grade crossings throughout the state. Seven sites in Raleigh are currently being altered to have trains passing through residential and industrial areas use bridges or underpasses instead of surface-level tracks. The work may take a year or more, but the increased safety is considered well worth the money and inconvenience.
As one mother of a preschooler who each day passes over the tracks across Millbrook Road told ABC11 on March 22, 2017, “This particular track crossing is really dangerous because it’s literally right outside our school.”
Grade crossing revisions similar to the ones in Raleigh are right now in various stages of planning and construction in Guilford, Orange, Robeson, Rowan and Stokes counties. Where possible, in order to speed completion and save costs, crossings are merely being closed and roads or tracks rerouted.
Hundreds of Deaths Each Year
More than 2,000 grade crossing crashes have happened in the United State during each of the last three years. In 2014, the most-recent 12-month period for which the National Transportation Safety Board has complete data, 262 people died in collisions between trains, vehicles and pedestrians. Another 873 individuals suffered injuries. Injuries spiked to 1.032 in 2015, and death2 rose slightly in 2016 to 265.
As the former administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration Joseph C. Szabo said in a July 1, 2013, press release announcing the beginning of a partnership with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, “The safest crossing is one that doesn’t exist, and NCDOT is now on its way to eliminating 50 crossings between Charlotte and Raleigh while building strategic underpasses and overpasses.”
Work Started in 2013
When NCDOT broke ground on its initial grade crossing safety improvement project in Durham in 2013, the state had more than 7,000 sites where railroad tracks and roadways intersected. The first leg of the overall grade crossing improvement work focuses on the Piedmont Corridor between Raleigh and Charlotte and is supported by a $520 million grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
North Carolina lawmakers have since approved state monies to increase the scope of grade crossing improvements. All efforts to separate trains from other types of traffic deserve support.