at Highway-Rail Grade Crossing
On August 11, 2007, at 9:20 AM, a southbound NS (Norfolk-Southern) freight train collided with a westbound motorcycle at the Colon Road highway-rail grade crossing near Fargo, GA. It was daylight, clear, and dry and approximately 86�F at the time of the collision. The motorcycle rider was killed as a result of the collision.
Traffic control at the crossing consisted only of Crossbuck signs. The crossing had two sets of tracks: a passing/siding track to the east and a main line track to the west with the NS train operating on the main line track. There were trees and vegetation in all four crossing quadrants along the roadway and the tracks, some of which was on the railroad's right-of-way.
The locomotive event recorder printout and video indicated that the train was traveling at 56-58 mph at the time of the collision. The train brakes were not applied until approximately 4-5 seconds after the collision. The train crew reported that they did not see the motorcycle prior to the collision.
James Loumiet was retained by the attorneys representing the deceased motorcycle rider to evaluate the crossing and determine what, if any, role it had in the collision. Mr. Loumiet inspected, measured, and photographed the crossing and directed a survey of the crossing. As a result of the investigation, the crossing was found to have numerous defects and deficiencies that made it extrahazardous and a causative factor in the collision.
The crossing had significantly restricted sight distance down the tracks caused by: (1) the trees and vegetation adjacent to the crossing, (2) a skewed crossing angle, and (3) curves in the roadway east and west of the tracks. As a result, motorists approaching the crossing were not able to see conflicting trains in time to avoid a collision.
Yet at grade crossings without active warning devices, it is imperative that a driver be able to visually detect the presence of an approaching train as early as possible. For moving vehicles approaching a crossing, the driver must have sufficient sight distance down the tracks in either direction from a point far enough back on the roadway to be able to stop their vehicle short of the crossing if a conflicting train comes into view.
In order to provide drivers with adequate sight distance down the tracks at a crossing, a clear sight triangle must be provided in all four crossing quadrants. The legs of the sight triangle are formed by: (a) the minimum distance down the tracks that the driver needs to be able to see, based largely on the train speed and amount of time necessary for the highway vehicle to clear the crossing, and (b) the distance from the near rail to the driver�s eye, based largely on the stopping sight distance for moving vehicles, and State crossing stopping requirements for stopped vehicles. The hypotenuse of the sight triangle is formed by the sight line between the driver�s eye and the limits of the track sight distance. The sight triangle for moving vehicles is referred to as the approach sight triangle. The sight triangle for stopped vehicles is referred to as the departure or clearing sight triangle.
The methodology and formula most commonly used to determine and calculate the dimensions of minimum needed sight triangles and sight distance needs at grade crossings have been published in numerous treatises, including the Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook and theTraffic Control Devices Handbook, both published by the FHWA, and A Policy On Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, published by AASHTO.
Calculations based on the FHWA and AASHTO methodology indicated that, given a maximum allowable train speed of 60 mph, the Colon Road crossing needed to provide drivers of moving vehicles with at least 630 feet of track sight distance in either direction from a point 275 feet from the near rail, given a 35-mph roadway approach speed. Yet Mr. Loumiet's analysis of actual sight distances at the crossing showed that the available sight-distances were much less than what was specified in the previously-cited references and was less than 100 feet in all four quadrants. The result was that the motorcycle rider was unable to see the NS train in time to avoid the collision.
Other factors contributed to the extrahazardous nature of the crossing. These included multiple tracks, high-speed train operations, high volumes of train traffic, a humped crossing profile and steep roadway approaches, a rough and dilapidated crossing surface, and inadequate and missing traffic control devices.