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The Associated Press and ABC television affiliate WTVG have reported that 15 year-old Cody Hill was killed and 16 year-old Briana Mullinger was critically injured when they were struck by an Amtrak train as they walked across tracks on their way to school.

"I don’t think you can describe the loss of the child. It’s horrible. It’s a tragedy, and I don’t think any words can describe when you lose anyone, much less a young person," said Springfield Schools Superintendent Kathryn Hott.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of Cody Brown and Briana Mullinger.

Just days after this tragic event, residents of Springfield Township are demanding changes to the railroad intersection.

Over 100 trains travel the tracks on McCord Rd. every day, and, in light of the recent accident, neighbors in the area are concerned for their children’s safety.

Over the past 10 to 15 years there have been 6 to 10 pedestrian-involved train accidents in Springfield Township.

The railroad tracks at the site of the accident are very close to the school, and many kids cross them on their daily walks to school.

How many deaths is enough before it justifies making this crossing safe? Why hasn’t the railroad stepped up and made it possible for children to cross these tracks safely on their way to school?

More than 100 trains using these tracks per day? Where kids have to walk across to get to school? It would be a drop in the bucket for the railroad companies to join together to build a walkway bridge across these tracks.

Why do these railroad companies keep putting profits and money above safety and lives? Do they think they get to play by different rules than the rest of us? What if you or I knew that our conduct endangered lives — in fact, had killed before — and we did nothing to change it or make it safer? Why do railroad companies and other large corporations keep getting away with killing kids?

Railroad companies are responsible making sure their train crossings are safe. That means the crossings have proper sight lines and visibility that allow drivers to see approaching trains, that trees and vegetation are cut back, that railroads do not park trains near the crossing (that would confuse drivers), that signals and gates are working properly, and that train crews sound a warning with the train’s horn or whistle as the train is approaching.

These train-vehicle collisions are a tragic reminder of how dangerous railroad crossings can be. In the last 10 years, there have been more than 30,000 railroad crossing accidents and more than 3,600 train accident deaths.

These train accidents can have many causes, including:

  • Failure of the railroad company to install proper warnings, such as lights, alarms (crossing bells) or a functioning crossing gate

  • Defective warnings — inoperable lights, bells or gates

  • Improper sight lines that prevent a vehicle’s driver from seeing an oncoming train until it is too late

  • Failure to properly maintain the crossing — such as allowing overgrown trees, vegetation and other foliage to obstruct or hide an oncoming train

  • Improperly parking a train at or near a crossing — this not only hides an oncoming train from view, but gives motorists a false sense of safety in seeing a parked train at the crossing

  • Failure to sound the train’s horn or whistle at or near the crossing

  • Other negligence that may appear on the train’s data recorder or video recorder

It takes a skilled team of investigators and experts to identify critical information.

Railroad companies need to do more to prevent these tragic collisions that kill. Unfortunately, some railroad companies attempt to cover up their role in causing these tragedies rather than implement safety improvements to prevent them.

In October, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad was hit with a $4 million penalty — on top of a $21.6 million jury verdict — because of its "staggering" pattern of misconduct that included destroying evidence in an attempted cover-up of its role in the deaths of four young people who were killed at one of its railroad crossings.

The Court found that BNSF destroyed some evidence, fabricated other evidence, interfered with the investigation and purposefully lied and advanced misleading facts in order to conceal the truth.

Railroad companies should be held accountable for dangerous railroad crossings that injure and kill. Is there a different set of rules for railroad companies than for everyone else? Railroad companies need to stop putting profits in front safety.

You can learn more about how to protect yourself at railroad crossings by visiting our railroad safety blog or web site.

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