After Amtrak Crash, Truck Owner Says Virginia Intersection Dangerous

By ALAN SUDERMAN | September 14, 2015

The owner of the company whose tractor-trailer was hit by an Amtrak train, splitting the trailer in two, said the intersection where the crash happened was a dangerous one on a route the driver took several times a day.

Linda Driver, owner of Driver Trucking Inc. in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, said Ronnie Allen, who has been working for her company for two years, was waiting to turn at the intersection before the train smashed into it Thursday, splitting the trailer in two and leaving the driver with minor injuries.

No passengers or crew members on board were hurt.

“He’s a good driver,” she said. “This was just something that came out of the blue on him. He’d commented before that this was a bad place.”

A spokeswoman for Virginia State Police, which is handling the investigation, did not respond to multiple requests for comment Thursday.

Nearly 270 passengers were on the Carolinian, which travels daily between Charlotte and New York City, when it hit the vehicle just north of the North Carolina line, Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said.

A stoplight at the intersection was blinking red, and Allen looked up and down the railroad before crossing and didn’t see any trains coming, Linda Driver said. He wasn’t able to enter the roadway because a pickup truck was coming, she said.

A Virginia State Trooper told her that her company was not at fault, she said. The driver is shaken up and his knee is hurt, but he wasn’t seriously injured. He does not want to speak to the news media, she said.

Donnie Driver, Linda Driver’s husband and co-owner of the company, said there used to be additional safety measures at the intersection when the nearby Georgia Pacific plant was open because there were more vehicles on the road.

A yellow sign with flashing lights that would alert drivers that a train was coming no longer works, Donnie Driver said. The sign was partially covered by a black tarp Thursday.

Lamont Lilly was eating his lunch near the front of the train when he felt a jolt, heard the brakes screech and smelled smoke. Lilly, who was on his way to New York from his home in Durham, said the train came to an abrupt halt, and he could see from his window that the trailer had been split in half.

Hundreds of grade crossing accidents happen each year involving passenger vehicles and tractor-trailers, said Bob Chipkevich, who served as the NTSB’s director of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations in Washington for nine years and now works as a consultant.

The crash comes about six months after an Amtrak train along the same route slammed into a tractor-trailer that got stuck on the tracks while trying to make a difficult left-hand turn in Halifax, North Carolina. One of the cars on that train toppled, and the conductor and at least 54 others were injured.

Two other deadly train crashes in New York and California in February killed a total of seven people and injured 30.

The oversized flatbed trailer involved in the March crash was transporting a modular building wrapped in blue plastic and jammed with electrical equipment, Lt. Jeff Gordon, a spokesman for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, said at the time. A trooper escorting the truck was trying to help the driver navigate a difficult turn when the crash happened.

The truck had been unable to back off the tracks before the train hit because traffic had backed up on the road behind the driver, officials said.

(Associated Press writers Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Alanna Durkin and Larry O’Dell in Richmond, Virginia; contributed to this report.)

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