Safety urged in wake of deadly train crash


Emergency responders and investigators survey the scene of a deadly vehicle-train collision Sunday in Whitakers. The driver of a SUV drove around the safety arms in an unsuccessful attempt to beat the train to the crossing.


Staff Writer

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Motorists should never try to beat a train, state transportation officials said Monday in the wake of a weekend wreck that killed an elderly married couple in Whitakers.

Eugene and Dorothy Lyons were thrown from their SUV after it was struck by an Amtrak train at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Nash Street crossing. They died at the scene.

Authorities said Dorothy Lyons drove around a crossing arm in an attempt to beat the oncoming train.

“Motorists should never cross a railroad gate that is active, flashing and closing to vehicular traffic,” said Andrew Barksdale, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Transportation's Division 4, which includes Nash and Edgecombe counties. Whitakers is divided between the two counties along the railroad tracks.

Whitakers Resident Michael Connors said he heard the crash Sunday afternoon.

“I feel bad for them,” Connors said. “But trains come through here all day. You can't out run one.”

Every three hours in the United States, a person or vehicle is struck by a train. There are 1,200 deaths a year related to vehicle or pedestrians being struck by a train, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.

Trains always have the right-of-way, even over police, fire and ambulance vehicles, according to BeRailSafe, the NCDOT's ongoing commitment to educating the public, as well as first-responders, about the dangers of being on and around railroad tracks. Its goal is preventing rail-related tragedies.

A train traveling at 55 mph needs more than a mile to stop — that's more than 18 football fields. Drivers should always expect a train at every highway-rail intersection and never drive around lowered gates — it's illegal and deadly.

Never stop a car on the railroad tracks. If you stop to wait for a train at a traffic signal, always stop safely behind the white line.

For pedestrians, the only safe and legal place to cross railroad tracks is at a public crossing designated with either a rail crossing sign, flashing red lights or a gate. All railroad tracks are private property and trespassers can be arrested or fined, according to state law.

After Sunday’s collision, Amtrak Train 89, the Palmetto, sat in place for several hours during the investigation. No one aboard the southbound train from New York City headed for Savannah, Georgia, was injured, said Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods.