Fatal train accidents have officials urging safety

EVERGREEN, AL (WSFA) - Five people have died in Alabama since October 1st in railroad related collisions.  Two people were killed in the latest incident, which was last Monday in Evergreen.   And now, this latest accident is prompting officials to take action.

Earlier this year, a WSFA 12 News analysis of federal statistics found that the crossing on Belleville Street in Evergreen had the most collisions in the state in the five year period we studied.  The crossing had six collisions between October 2005 and October 2010.  Since October of 2010, there have been four more collisions at the site and three more deaths, bringing the total number in six years to five.

Flashing lights are present at the crossing, but now local officials want gates installed there.

"We're in the process now of doing what's necessary at that crossing because of the number of accidents that have occurred there," said Evergreen Police Chief Tony Simpson.

Simpson said says local residents use Belleville Street as a quick access point to U.S. Highway 31.  On the night WSFA 12 News crews were present, the train slowed down, and a crewman put out flares to warn drivers.

"That crossing actually comes off of one of the main streets here in Evergreen which is going to be Highway 31, and there's traffic through there coming and going," Simpson said.

Officials in Evergreen want that crossing to be upgraded to include gates.  But as we first told you in February, the process is not so simple.   There is only a limited supply of federal funds the Alabama Department of Transportation can allocate to improve crossings.  It's up to the railroads to install those upgrades.

State officials did travel to Evergreen this month to take a look at the crossing.

"We are working with them to see if additional federal funds can be used," said Tony Harris, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation.  "In the early 90s, federal funds were used to put up flashing lights at that location."

But Harris says gates alone are not the answer.  He said the driver in Evergreen went through the crossing after the flashing lights deployed.  And in October, police say three people were killed in two separate incidents in Bessemer after they drove around crossing gates.

"The key to safe roadways is safe drivers," Harris said.  "We can't put vehicle traffic in a tunnel for their own protection.  They have to be responsible and they have to be part of the solution."

Harris said the state is conducting a study of the crossing in Evergreen right now.  The department will determine if the crossing meets federal criteria to fund the upgrades there.  It could take $250,000 or more to install gates at that crossing.  If drivers follow the law, and stop at each railroad crossing, Harris said, there were fewer collisions at crossings.

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