One man died and another suffered life-threatening burns when their tractor-trailer collided with a Norfolk Southern train in Roanoke County, Virginia (VA), on February 1, 2016. The cause of the crash could not be immediately determined.
The grade-level railroad crossing where the deadly accident occurred is on privately owned land off W. River Road, near the Western Virginia Regional Jail. The deceased truck driver and his passenger were apparently working for Appalachian Power and drove across the double set of tracks without noticing the oncoming freight train. No signs, gates or warning lights exist at the location, meaning drivers, bike riders and pedestrians receive no alerts when trains approach.
Virginia law does not require safety devices or barriers at private railroad crossings. Property owners do have some duty to ensure that lines of sight along rights-of-way remain clear and that the intersecting road or drive remains in good condition, but the standards for enforcing such rules are very loose. Pictures and video from the crash scene show a curve in the track and trees growing close to the rail bed.
Investigators from the Federal Railroad Administration, National Transportation Board, state police and local law enforcement departments will need to determine whether the train was exceeding a safe speed and following rules regarding sounding horns and whistles. The actions of the truck driver will also need to be reconstructed, with special attention being paid to whether conditions made seeing the train in time to stop possible and whether he had received instructions from a supervisor to ignore the possibility of trains using the tracks.
All railroad crossings pose risks. The crossings on private property can be particularly dangerous, however, because they often lack the safety measures required at intersections with public roads and highways. As large and loud as they can be, trains can also be difficult to spot. Equipping every crossing with automatic gates and stop lights, then, should be encouraged under state and federal law.