Driver killed in collision with train ran stop sign at railroad crossing, police say
The driver killed this morning in a collision with a train in Augusta Township was traveling at a high rate of speed and missed a stop sign at the railroad crossing, police said.
The conductor of the Norfolk-Southern cargo train told Michigan State Police officers that Luna was traveling southbound on McKean Road and failed to stop at the crossing’s stop sign.
“He was struck at an angle while crossing the tracks,” said MSP Trooper Duane Zook. “A freight train that heavy and that long takes a very long time to stop.”
The posted track speed in the area near McKean is 40 mph, said Norfolk-Southern spokesperson Dave Pidgeon. How fast the locomotive was traveling remains under investigation.
The Federal Railroad Administration sets the railway speeds, whereas the State Department of Transportation determines whether a rail crossing has stop signs, gates or flashers.
Pidgeon said the 4,000-foot train, which was carrying general merchandise, was average length. Of its 70 cars, 50 were loaded while 20 were empty.
Augusta Township Assistant Fire Chief Dave Music, who responded to the crash, said authorities initially were unable to determine whether the vehicle was stopped on the tracks or if the train hit the vehicle.
“Anytime a vehicle meets a train, the train usually wins,” Music said. “It was not pretty. The vehicle had been moved 30 to 40 feet. There was a lot of damage.”
Luna was pronounced dead at the scene. His 2002 Nissan Pathfinder was totaled in the collision and pieces of it were strewn about.
Music said there probably have been six or seven train-vehicle accidents in Augusta Township in the past 10 to 15 years, including a previous one near the intersection of Willis and McKean roads. That crash, however, was not fatal.
The Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Safety Analysis reported 40 train-vehicle accidents in Michigan prior to Sept. 30. (Data for November has not been tabulated yet). Of the 40, six resulted in fatalities.
The most current data for the United States as a whole shows 1,431 rail-crossing accidents in 2011 with 191 deaths.
Fire fighters with the Augusta Township Fire Department were called to the scene at about 9:15 a.m., Music said.
He added officials with Norfolk-Southern Corp. arrived at the scene shortly after the incident occurred. The train crew and engineer were swapped out and a new crew eventually resumed operation of the train after police gave the OK.
The train originally blocked Rawsonville Road south of Bemis. The Washtenaw County Road Commission aided police in rerouting traffic from about 10:30 a.m. until a little before noon when the train was backed out of the roadway.
Pidgeon said the train was on its way again shortly after 1 p.m.