Four passengers suffered injuries of varying severity when the Amtrak train on which they were riding collided with a tree-trimming truck and its attached wood chipper near a private crossing in Berlin, Connecticut (CT). The driver of the truck also sustained serious injuries in the accident that occurred on the morning of June 23, 2014.
Authorities do not know why the truck was on the tracks in the mostly rural part of the center of the state. The smaller vehicle and its rig appear to have been parked, however.
WITH News 8 is reporting that the train’s engineer spotted the truck and activated the brakes before the collision, but the train was traveling to fast to stop. Fortunately, the train crewman was also able to reach the first passenger car and get it evacuated in time to prevent even worse casualties.
The accident happened along a stretch of track that lacks fencing or other barriers that would keep vehicles and pedestrians off the right-of-way. Also, a private crossing that allows easy access to the rail bed is located nearby.
Although it seems likely that the operator of the tree-trimming truck created the immediate danger that led to the train crash and the passengers’ injuries, investigators will need to collect much more information. For instance, track repair and maintenance crews normally have set times and a permissible amount of clearance to work when trains will not be approaching or at risk for making contact. Continual communication with dispatchers who control access to the tracks for Amtrak may have broken down, or proper authorizations may not have been sought.
Regardless, the existing situation of open access to tracks where trains can reach speeds of 90 mph also needs to be addressed to prevent future crashes. Almost each day across the United States, people get injured and lose their lives on railroad tracks because they find it so simple to get into the paths of speeding trains.
As a Virginia personal injury and wrongful death lawyer who has represented many victims of railroad accidents, I have advocated for stricter controls on track access for decades. Some progress is being made, but crashes like this one in Connecticut show that railroad companies like Amtrak, CSX and Norfolk Southern have much work to do in ensuring everyone’s health and safety.