Officials might never know why the driver of a mail-hauling truck failed to stop for a Union Pacific Railroad train Wednesday morning.
But the motorist, driving a truck for Mack Priority Transport, attempted to cross railroad tracks at Hogarth Street, northwest of Business U.S. 53, a portion of the city of Eau Claire in Chippewa County.
The eastbound vehicle was struck by the lead locomotive of a mainly empty northeast-bound train, and the driver, identified by police as an adult male, was killed, said Jeff DeGraff, a spokesman for Union Pacific, which also owns the tracks. No Union Pacific employees were injured.
“It’s difficult to understand how it happened,” DeGraff said. “Did the driver not see the train? Was (the motorist) looking down or distracted? We might never know.”
DeGraff and Eau Claire police spokeswoman Bridget Coit remind motorists to use care at rail crossings.
“We ask that you continually be diligent when driving and pay attention,” Coit said.
“If you’re driving and you’re coming up to a railroad crossing — and they are all marked in some form or another — always expect that there is going to be a train,” DeGraff said. “Then, slow down and look in both directions.
“If there is a train approaching, once the lights start flashing — (if there are lights at the crossing), that’s not a warning. That is an actual stop sign.”
DeGraff offered the following additional advice:
• If there is a white stripe on the road before the tracks, stop there. Trains can overhang the width of the tracks by up to 6 feet.
• If the crossing has gates, don’t try to go around them. If there are no gates, don’t try to beat the train.
“Sometimes, it can be deceptive how fast the train is moving,” said DeGraff, noting that a fully loaded freight train traveling at 55 mph can take up to a mile to stop. “Regardless of how fast a train is traveling, it isn’t going to stop on a dime.”
The collision, reported to the Eau Claire Police and Fire departments at 5:59 a.m., dragged the truck along the west side of the tracks, and by the time the freight train was able to stop, its four locomotives and 128 cars blocked crossings at Hogarth, Melby Street and Delbert Road.
The crossings at Melby and Delbert, west of Business U.S. 53, were reopened at about 10 a.m., according to Eau Claire police. Hogarth Street reopened around 1 p.m.
Mack Priority Transport is contracted to haul mail for the U.S. Postal Service, which has a facility on Hogarth Street. The truck involved in the collision was carrying mail and packages and serviced routes or post office boxes in Independence, Osseo, Pigeon Falls and Whitehall, according to a U.S. Postal Service statement.
“Those deliveries will be delayed until the investigation is complete, and mail is released to USPS,” the statement said.
Between 2007 and 2017, there were 546 accidents involving trains with 38 fatalities in Wisconsin, DeGraff said.
If a train is coming, “it might take one minute, two minutes for the train to go through,” he said. “Go ahead, be patient and wait for the train to go through. Your life is worth the wait.”
The Eau Claire Police Department, with the assistance of the Wisconsin State Patrol, is continuing to investigate the crash. Union Pacific Railroad also is investigating the incident.
Contact: 715-830-5838, email@example.com, @CTOBrien on Twitter