A man and a young girl lost their lives after being run over by a Norfolk Southern railroad freight train on a rail bridge near Chilhowie, Virginia (VA), on the afternoon of June 29, 2014. Another boy who had been on the trestle with the deceased victims appeared to escape injury by slipping into the space underneath the tracks.
Police and officials from the railroad continue to investigate the fatal pedestrian accident. The engineer did sound the train's horn and apply the brakes before striking the two people who got killed, but there was not enough warning for the people to get off the tracks or for the train to stop. The real problem, as made obvious by pictures of the accident scene available on the website for television station WSLS, is that no barriers are in place to keep people off the bridge.
Fatalities involving trains and pedestrians are far too common, especially incidents like this one on the short bridge over a stream in southwest Virginia. The trestle has no superstructure on which gates could be placed to block access by unauthorized individuals. Nor does the bridge have sidings on which even rail employees could take refuge should a train come through unexpectedly while track maintenance was being performed.
Rail corporations often delay or fight needed safety upgrades, ranging from systems that allow dispatchers to slow or stop trains remotely to placing automatic gates at street-level crossings and even posting signs about the dangers of trespassing on tracks. While as a Virginia personal injury and wrongful death attorney who has helped dozens of people hurt in accidents involving trains, I know that no measure will ever protect everyone, I also see far too often that small expenditures of effort and money could go a long way to prevent tragedies.
Rail operators and rail bed such as Amtrak, CSX and Norfolk Southern must do more to control track access and improve protections for people who live, work and play near railroad bridges. One small positive result from the deadly pedestrian accident near Chilhowie, VA, should be that the bridge is redesigned to add protective features.