Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Longmeadow, Mass. public works employee was killed after the snow plow he was driving was struck by an Amtrak plow train clearing the tracks

Longmeadow DPW plow driver's death is fifth at Birnie Road rail crossing, records show

 Greg Saulmon |
   March 14, 2017 at 10:46 PM

LONGMEADOW, Mass. -- A DPW plow driver who died in a collision with an Amtrak train Tuesday afternoon was the fifth person killed in a train accident at the crossing since the 1970s, according to federal records reviewed by The Republican.

Accident records maintained by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration show a total of five collisions in which trains struck vehicles at the Birnie Road crossing between 1975 and 2005. Three involved fatalities, including a May 1981 collision that killed two occupants of a car that stopped on the tracks.

Longmeadow plow driver killed in train collision

Tuesday's collision -- described as a "tragic accident" by a police sergeant at the scene -- was reported at the crossing around 4 p.m. The train stopped several hundred yards down the tracks, and could be seen through the woods off Pondside Road.

Town Manager Stephen J. Crane said the worker died when a northbound Amtrak train hit his truck. The worker was plowing Birnie Road -- a public way that runs through a wooded area off Pondside Road before connecting to West and Dunn roads, where several homes are located along the Connecticut River.

"It's hard," Crane said, his voice breaking as he spoke to reporters in driving sleet and snow near the scene. "We're not a big group, so it hits home for us."

Visibility was poor at the time of the collision as heavy snow and wind from Winter Storm Stella lashed the area. "The weather I'm sure was a factor," Crane said.

Longmeadow DPW worked killed in 'tragic accident'

The collision took place off Pondside Road, not far from the town's DPW garage.

No signals

According to a U.S. Department of Transportation "Crossing Inventory Form" reviewed by The Republican, there are no gate arms, lights or other traffic signals on Birnie Road to stop vehicles from passing over the tracks or warn of an oncoming train.

The records indicate there are signs for the crossing, and Google's Street View application shows stop signs and static railroad crossing signs -- known as "crossbucks" -- on the roadway on either side of the tracks.

But there were no warning signs present at the time of the previous fatal collisions, recorded in 1975, 1981 and 1982, according to federal records.

An accident report for a July 2005 collision -- which resulted in no deaths or injuries -- lists stop signs and crossbucks in the category of "Type of Crossing Warning."

Vehicles were stopped on the crossing in four of the five previous collisions, including two of the three involving fatalities. A report on a 1975 collision that left one dead notes that vegetation obscured the view of the tracks. An obstructed view, again by vegetation, was also cited in the report on the 2005 collision.

Records list the crossing as public in 1975, but as private on accident reports from 1981 to 1983. The 2005 accident report again lists the crossing as public.

In addition to Birnie Road's history of accidents, three train collisions involving vehicles were reported at the nearby Emerson Road crossing between 1978 and 2002, the records show. One of those collisions involved a non-fatal injury.

Investigation continues

Tuesday's accident remains under investigation, Crane said. In addition to local police and firefighters, Amtrak police, Massachusetts State Police, federal railway officials and a unit from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection were at the scene late into the afternoon.

An Amtrak spokeswoman told television station WWLP the train involved was plowing the tracks, and that no passengers were on board. No injuries to the train's crew were reported. Regular Amtrak service was canceled Tuesday due to the weather.

The driver's identity was not released Tuesday, and Crane indicated additional information could be released Wednesday morning. Crane said the worker's family members were notified about the accident prior to his statement to the media.

Longmeadow, Mass. snow plow operator is struck, killed by train
By Lauren Fox Globe Correspondent March 15, 2017

A Longmeadow public works employee was killed after the snow plow he was driving was struck by an Amtrak plow train clearing the tracks late Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

The worker, who was not identified, was plowing across the railroad track around 4 p.m. when the plow train struck his vehicle at a private crossing near Birnie Road, according to Amtrak spokesperson Mike Tolbert.

“The crossing is kind of a minor crossing,” Town Manager Stephen Crane said. “It doesn’t have traffic controls.”

The incident occurred at Birnie and Pondside roads, Crane said.

There were no passengers onboard the plow train, which was operated by only crew members to “plow snow and clear the tracks,” Tolbert said.

Crane added the Longmeadow employee was alone in the snow plow vehicle during the collision, and there was a medical examiner on scene.

Amtrak police are investigating the incident.

No further information was immediately available late Tuesday night. 


Longmeadow DPW employee killed after train collides with truck identified Posted: Mar 15, 2017 10:40 AM EST Updated: Mar 15, 2017 10:40 AM EST
By Ryan Trowbridge, Web Content Manager

(Western Mass News photo)

One dead after train collides with DPW truck in Longmeadow


Officials have identified the Longmeadow DPW employee who was killed after the truck he was driving was hit by a train.

Longmeadow Town Manager Stephen Crane said that 59-year-old Warren Cowles of Longmeadow was driving a town plow truck around 4 p.m. Tuesday when an Amtrak train hit the truck as it was crossing the tracks at Tina Lane, or also known as Birnie Road.

Crane noted that Cowles died instantly after the collision.

Amtrak spokesperson Mike Tolbert told Western Mass News that that train was a plow train that was working to clear snow from the tracks.

Crane added that Cowles, who was known as 'Cowlesie' by those in the department, was a working foreman for the DPW and had worked for the town for 29 years.

"Cowlesie’s ‘get it done’ attitude was infectious. His positive attitude and work ethic brought out the best in everyone he worked with. We will miss him everyday," said Longmeadow DPW Director Mario Mazza in a statement.

While Crane said that the initial indication is that this was a "tragic accident," the incident remains under investigation by Longmeadow Police, Mass. State Police, and Amtrak Police.

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