CROZET, Va/February 01, 2018(AP)(STL.News)— The safety arms at a railroad crossing where a train carrying Republican lawmakers slammed into a garbage truck appeared to be malfunctioning the day before the deadly crash, drivers who regularly cross over the tracks at the crash scene said Thursday.
Gene Locke, who lives near the tracks in Crozet, said he pulled up to the crossing between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and saw that the safety arms were down and the signal light was flashing, but s no train was approaching from either direction. After waiting a minute or so, he backed up, turned around and took a different route, assuming there was either a malfunction of the signal crossing or workers were testing it.
“I did not report this, as it was the first time this has happened in my observation since I have been using that crossing for several years,” Locke told The Associated Press.
Jane Rogers, who lives about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the crash site, said that when she arrived at the crossing Tuesday, the gate was down, even though there were no trains approaching. She said after waiting, one car in front of her and two cars behind her turned around. Then, as she started to turn around, the gate went up. One car then crossed the tracks, but Rogers said she waited another 30 seconds and the gate went down again. No trains passed, she said.
“It was a weird up-and-down thing,” she said. “Then the next day, the accident happened at that intersection.”
Carrie Brown, human resources manager at Buckingham Branch Railroad, which leases the stretch of track and is responsible for maintenance, said Wednesday that she was unaware of any problems with equipment at the crossing. She declined further comment Thursday and referred all questions to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating and has said signal experts will be looking at the safety of the crossing.
No safety inspection records were immediately available.
The State Corporation Commission, which inspects railroad facilities including track and equipment, does not maintain inspection records but turns them over to the Federal Railroad Administration, SCC spokesman Andy Farmer said.
A spokesman for the FRA said details on inspections would require a public records request.
Wednesday’s crash happened at an intersection that crosses the tracks at the top of a hill where visibility is limited.
Rogers said she reported the trouble to the police after she heard about the fatal crash. She said she would have called about the malfunctioning arm Tuesday, “but who do you call? No one knows.”
The lawmakers were on their way to a strategy retreat in West Virginia when the collision occurred about 11:20 a.m. Wednesday in Crozet, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of Washington.
An employee of the trash company, Time Disposal, was killed. The company identified him as Christopher Foley, 28, and said he was the father of a 1-year-old boy. Six others were injured. One remained in critical condition Thursday. One other person remained hospitalized in fair condition. Four people had been released.
Benny Layne, on whose property the truck landed, said the crossing arms had been known to malfunction, sometimes coming down even though no train was approaching. Sometimes, he said, they stayed down for hours.
“A guy was up here just yesterday or the day before taking a look at them,” he said Wednesday.