Amtrak accident truck railroad crossingA dump truck stuck on the rails of a shared Norfolk Southern-Amtrak railroad crossing near the town of Nokesville, Virginia (VA), caused a crash for the Amtrak Crescent Liner on Feb. 10, 2010. The Prince William County News & Messenger reported that no one was injured in the collision, but the passengers on the train were delayed for six hours while the engine received repairs.

The paper also noted that the driver of the truck was charged with failing to clear his vehicle from the tracks. While drivers do have legal — and life-preserving — obligations to stop at marked railroad crossings and to not stop while moving across rail beds, several factors can prevent them from doing so.

Unmentioned in reports of the accident are whether the crossing was adequately marked and secured with stop signs, red lights, pavement markings, cross hatches and traffic gates. Also, if the tracks had sunken below the level of the intersecting road, small cars or heavily loaded trucks can easily become stuck on the rails. The three or more feet of snow on the ground from back-to-back storms may also have played a role in causing the accident, either by reducing traction for the truck’s wheels or blocking the truck driver’s view of the oncoming train.

When trains hit cars or trucks, people in those vehicles often die. Train crews and passengers often also suffer serious injuries. Drivers, train conductors and rail operators must do all they can to prevent such crashes.