PORT ARTHUR, Texas -- On State Highway 73 in Port Arthur, the lights typically flash, the bells ring and the cross arm lowers as trains pass through.
It’s a warning with serious consequences, but suppose for a moment, there was no warning at all. Imagine the very same crossing just before dark with no flashing lights, no bells and no cross arms.
“I was dumbfounded,” said Port Arthur resident Michael Orta. “I really didn't see it until I got right up on it, and I realized there was no signal light, and the crossing arm didn't come down.”
He documented it all with his smart phone camera.
“It really made me angry,” Orta said. “I had my entire family. We had just come back from an outing.”
he said if it had been any darker then he might not have seen the black tanker cars in time to stop because the speed limit on that stretch of road is 60 mph.
Union Pacific is responsible for more than half of the railroad crossings in Texas, nearly 7,700, and this is one of them. It says all of its crossings are inspected monthly. They are also automated set up to activate any time a train is approaching.
After viewing the video, the company issued a written statement, which reads in part, “We appreciate the issue…was brought to our attention. While this is a rare occurrence, we take issues involving public safety very seriously. We are trying to determine if all of our safety procedures were followed.”
Strangely enough, Orta has another connection to this story that is purely coincidental. He says a family friend died 31 years ago after hitting a train at the same crossing. Operated by Southern Pacific at the time, the circumstances were remarkably different.
“The lights were staying on with the arms up,” said Orta’s brother-in-law Ernie Purdue. “We got to where we just assumed there was no train coming because the light stayed on all the time.”
Last year in Texas, there were 227 crossing collisions, some with active warning signal and some without.
This is proof you should never just assume.