Last year, the Federal Railroad Association reported that Florida suffered from 65 highway-rail grade collisions, leading to twelve deaths. When heavy semi-tractor trailers drive over the “low ground clearance” of railroad crossings, their legs – what keeps the trailers level after the cab is detached – often get stuck in the train rails. Sumter County’s major intersection, U.S. Highway 301 and County Road 104 in Oxford, has a few signs indicating semis may have trouble, but it is not a severe enough deterrent to turn drivers away.
When the semi-tractor trailers become lodged in the track, they are unable to pull their weight out, requiring a tow-truck to haul them free. Trains travel at such high speeds that if the trailers are still on the rails as the train approaches, it has no choice but to crash through. Two back to back accidents, one involving molten sulfur and the other hundreds of watermelons, eventually brought the problem to the attention of the Sumter County officials.
Both truck drivers were cited for allowing their trucks to get stuck by not stopping after seeing the “low ground clearance” sign, as well as not calling 911 after becoming lodged on the tracks. The drivers of both trucks were unable to get out before the crash, but luckily were not badly injured. Had the railroad approaches been higher, neither truck would have gotten stuck.
This has been a known problem for a while, Florida Highway Patrol trooper R. Taylor was even quoted saying, “Something needs to be done about [the crossing] before someone gets killed.” When the state is aware of the problem, but neglects to do anything to resolve it, hiring a personal injury attorney after an accident would benefit the victims.
Either truck driver could argue that it was the failure to repair this approach which caused their trucks to become lodged on the track, and therefore they should not be cited for a crime they did not commit. A small sign does little to encourage a semi-tractor trailer to find an alternate route.
Sumter County Administrator, Bradley Arnold, has finally approved the $55,000 upgrade to the railroad crossing approaches. He has also temporarily closed the 301/104 crossing to prevent any further damage and injuries. Arnold promises the work will start “soon,” but did not provide a definitive date.