Driver in critical condition after pulling out in front of train

By: Stephanie Baker Email
By: Stephanie Baker Email

February 27, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---A freight train and car collided at Marvin Griffin Road today, leaving the car's driver, Carolyn Coney, and her passenger, Rodney Patterson, in critical condition.

Deputies say the car went around the gates when they were down, trying to beat the train. And the engineer says he was so close when it happened, he never even saw her.

After being struck by the 3500 ton train, Coney's car was left in crumpled pieces.

Norfolk Southern locomotive engineer David Youngblood works to prevent accidents like this through Operation Lifesaver, a national organization he joined after a driver died while trying to beat his train.

"People think they have more time to get across...but the train is traveling twice as fast as they think," he told News 12.

In this case, deputies say engineer Julian Ramsue slowed his speed to 36 miles per hour by the time he got to the crossing.

Before Carolyn Coney attempted to cross the tracks, Ramsue saw two other cars cross. That's when he started breaking--almost 1300 feet, or a little less than a fifth of a mile, from the crossing.

But it can take a fully-loaded train a full mile to come to a complete stop. That means even if the engineer had seen Coney starting to cross, there wasn't enough track between the train and her 1996 Ford Contour.

A train weighs about 4000 times more than a car. That's about the difference between a vehicle and a 12 oz aluminum can. Just imagine the damage a car can do to a can, and you'll get an idea of what a train can do to your car.

Coney's car was demolished. Conversely, the train only suffered $50 of damage.

"We're no competition for a train," said driver Jeremy Chapman, who drives the Marvin Griffin Road route often. He says he won't try to beat the train.

Youngblood says doing so causes half of all crashes like this.

"People travel the tracks day and night, they never see a train, and become careless," he said. "We just want them to understand...every time is train time."

In this case, a representative from Norfolk Southern tells us the train was only about a minute long, so it wouldn't have been a long wait for the driver.

The train was carrying ammonium hydrate, but fortunately, none of it spilled.

We've seen a lot of dangerous behavior by cars near railroad tracks. During a Dumb and Dangerous Driving segment, we caught a truck trying to beat a train. It knocked off the crossing rail as it barreled across the tracks and just kept going.

We've also seen trucks and cars just sitting on the track waiting for the light to change.

And as we were presenting this story live on air, two vehicles, a shipping truck and a car, both tried to beat a train, and the crossing arms came down on top of them.

A few years ago, News 12's Richard Rogers did a ride-along with a train engineer to see the situation from a different perspective. The crew must simply watch helplessly as cars cross right in front of the train...there's nothing they can do.

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