A recent tragedy in West Texas serves as a real-life reminder of the deadly dangers posed by railroad crossings.
On November 15 in Midland, Texas, during an annual parade to honor wounded war veterans, a freight train slammed into one of the parade floats. Two veterans riding on the float died at the scene. Two others later died at a hospital. At least 17 other passengers on the float were injured, some of them critically.
The accident currently is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), so many details are yet to be uncovered and conclusions reached. But this much we do know: the flatbed carrying 26 people – the last float in the parade – was hit by the train as it followed a tractor-trailer float in front of it as they made their way over a set of railroad tracks just outside of Midland. One float made it across, one didn’t. And at least four people have died as a result.
Early investigations indicate that the crossing’s gates and warning lights may have been functional at the time of the accident. There has been at least some suggestion that, between the time the flashing lights activated and when the crossing arms came down, the float had enough time to get on the tracks. Again, it is likely too early to know if this is an indication of an inadequate or malfunctioning signal.
This latest accident should be of particular importance locally. Missouri and Illinois have among the highest number of railroad crossing deaths in the nation. All totaled, about 500 deaths occur at railroad crossings in the United States each year.