Target 11 investigates dangerous railroad crossings

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Chances are you cross railroad tracks every day.  So just how dangerous are the tracks you travel?  Last year in Pennsylvania, there were 60 accidents at railroad crossings.  Four people lost their lives. 

Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle discovered that the Federal Railroad Administration actually ranks railroad crossings based on accident predictability, and seven of the crossings in our area are near the top of that list. 

In fact, the most dangerous crossing in the entire state is in Allegheny County.

Earle talked to a woman who lost her brother in a deadly railroad crossing accident more than a decade ago. That crossing in Hempfield Township never reopened.

"I just think it's a very dangerous intersection and I'm glad the crossing is closed and it's a shame that it took an accident like this to close this intersection," said Sharita Hoffner, whose 16-year old brother Frankie Kalish, died in the accident.

The Federal Railroad Administration accident prediction lists ranks 11th Street in Braddock at the top of the list. During the past four years, there have been three crashes here. No one was killed.

But some people who travel the tracks told Earle they were surprised by that lofty rating.

"The trains go a little fast, but that's about it, other than that you can clearly see them coming, definitely," said Ryan Lippert.

"Something you may have noticed already is the amount of noise," said Penndot engineer Don Harvey, who is in charge of railroad crossings.

Harvey said noise from industry is one of the big contributing factors. He said the noise makes it tough to hear the train whistle and the above the crossing signs. He also said that at night the lights from the plants make it difficult to see the train light. And then there is the constant flow of truck traffic. Harvey said some of the trucks were attempting to beat the trains.

Target 11 crunched the data to find the dangerous crossings.

  • In Butler, East Main St. in Renfrew.
  • In Westmoreland County, Burd's crossing in Derry.
  • In Washington, 6th Street in Monongahela.
  • In Beaver, Mckinley Road in New Galilee, where a woman died two years ago.

"A young lady lost her mother and I was invited to a Public Utilities Commission field conference up there, and I think it touched every one that was there," said Harvey.

Harvey got the railroad to pay for the engineering study and he secured federal funds to cover the $200,000 cost to install crossing gates and lights.

But Sharita Hoffner believes more crossings need the same improvements.

“It's just a matter of time before some other families have to go through the same situation,” said Hoffner.

Harvey has also obtained federal funding for gates and lights at the crossing in Braddock.  The safety improvements should be completed this spring.

Norfolk Southern railroad sent us this information from the Association of American Railroads.

“With approximately 210,000 grade crossings in the U.S., railroads work every day with state, local and federal officials, as well as the public, to continuously improve grade crossing safety and promote safe driver and pedestrian behavior. Through hard work and successful partnerships, the number of grade crossing collisions on U.S. passenger and freight railroads fell 82 percent; injuries associated with collisions fell 77 percent; and fatalities fell 72 percent from 1980 to 2012. In fact, the grade crossing collision rate has fallen nearly every year since 1978 with the 2012 grade crossing collision rates down 7.9 percent from 2011.”