Wingate residents concerned after two train crashes occur within span of a week

Twice now in the past week, a train has collided with a truck stuck on the tracks.
Published: Jan. 26, 2023 at 9:51 PM EST

WINGATE, N.C. (WBTV) - WBTV is on your side, digging deeper into why so many trucks are getting stuck on railroad tracks in Union County.

Twice in the past week trains have plowed into trucks, both of which were caught on camera.

The trouble spot is on Main Street in the town of Wingate.

The town manager of said that particular railroad crossing has been an issue for years now, but back-to-back crashes have heightened the need for changes.

“I heard two big booms last night,” Wingate resident Gayle Smith said. “I hope somebody can figure it out and come to some conclusion to fix apparently what the problem is.”

Trucks getting stuck on the tracks has become a common occurrence in the area. People in Wingate blame the bypass for contributing large trucks driving down Main Street.

“It’s almost surreal,” Brad Sellers, Wingate Town Manager, said. “It seems that’s what’s driving the trucks through town, they get on the bypass in Marshville and the first place they can get off, if they don’t want to be on the bypass, is in Wingate.”

WBTV searched the through Federal Rail Administration site data and found no history of train accidents at this site within the past five years.

Sellers said more than 20 trucks have gotten stuck on the specific section of track over the past three years.

Local leaders and residents fear the next train versus truck crash could involve one carrying hazardous chemicals, which could turn into devastation for the town.

“Obviously, we’ve been able to stop the trains, most of them have happened during the day,” Sellers said.

It was too late to stop the train last week and Wednesday night.

So what’s causing trucks to get stuck?

“These two specific incidents is the landing gear on the trailers themselves, there was not enough clearance and [they] got hung on the rail,” Sellers said.

From the naked eye, you can see the rails are higher than the road which makes it challenging for large trucks to cross. Warning signs line the road leading up to the rail crossing where both incidents happened.

The town points to CSX and the state department of transportation which owns the roadway.

“We’re fighting two large bureaucracies with CSX and with the NCDOT and we just need help,” Sellers said.

“I’m sure everybody in Wingate would like for it to be fixed, whatever fixed mean, and you know, whoever fix it or gets it fixed, good for them,” Smith said.

Following the incidents, the NCDOT issued the statement below:

NCDOT reviewed this location in coordination with the Town of Wingate in the past . It was determined the road on either side of the tracks would need to be raised and the rail signal equipment on site would need to be replaced, too. This project estimate was $1.1 million a few years ago, so it’s likely that cost has increased. At this time, a funding source has not been identified.

In the interim, the department has worked to help redirect truck drivers around the crossing through their navigation systems. We will continue to explore other options with the town as investigations into the recent crashes continue.”

CSX also released a statement of its own:

“At CSX, safety is our highest priority. CSX works relentlessly to prevent railroad related injuries and accidents through education, enforcement, engineering and advocacy at all levels. Our goal is zero accidents, so one crossing collision is too many. We want everyone to return home to their families safely, whether they work for us or live in the communities we serve. CSX oversees the maintenance of railroad crossings on our network, however, state and/or local road authorities, not CSX, maintain roadway approaches and determine the type of crossing that is appropriate at each public crossing location. CSX has always and will continue to maintain open lines of communication and work with local and state officials to identify crossings that are ideal candidates for safety improvements, consolidation and most importantly, closure. Closing at-grade crossings will improve public safety by eliminating the risk of crossing collisions, however, the authority to close or improve safety at crossings on public roads rests with the state and local municipalities, not the railroads.

CSX supports the consolidation of crossings on our network by offering incentives, such as a match of available federal funding. We are committed to reducing the number of at-grade crossings on our network, because in our view the safest railroad crossing is one that doesn’t exist. We urge all drivers to pay attention and adhere to the posted low ground clearance warning signs, ensuring that vehicles can safely and sufficiently clear the highway profile conditions.”

Related: Train and tractor-trailer collide in Wingate for second time in a week