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Tragedy in Monterey County: Amtrak collision takes two lives

There is one road obstacle no hurried driver ever wishes to see: the flashing lights and lowering bars of a railroad crossing. Sometimes it can seem like hours until the last boxcar whips by and traffic can finally start moving again. However, as painful as the wait may occasionally seem, the potential consequences of facing an oncoming train can be far worse. In the battle between train and car, the car rarely wins.

This past weekend in Monterey Bay, an Amtrak train struck a truck while it was moving through a crossing near Elkhorn Slough. The truck was carrying two passengers, both of whom died in the fatal accident. The Amtrak train was clipping along the tracks at a speed of 50 mph at the time of the collision. This level of speed, combined with the weight of such a large vehicle, spelled instant disaster for the victims.

The victims in the car weren't the only ones involved in the accident. Besides the conductor, there were also 150 passengers aboard the Amtrak train. Fortunately, local police officers reported that none of the train's passengers were injured in the collision and only slight damage was done to the train itself.

As investigators attempt to reconstruct the accident, they say the facts of the case remain unclear. Some empty alcohol containers were found near the site of the wreckage, but it hasn't been established whether or not the driver was intoxicated at the time of the crash.

Also, since the accident occurred at a crossing site not equipped with the well-known warning lights and guard bars, it is also unclear whether the driver thought he could beat the train across the track or whether he never even saw it coming.

In a case with so many unknown variables, many people are probably wondering if these tragic deaths could have been avoided. Was this accident a result of reckless driving or could the addition of warning lights at the crossing have saved two lives? These are the tough questions that the victims' families and friends will surely be asking over the next couple of weeks.

Source: Mercury "CHP: Two dead after car collides with Amtrak train south of Las Lomas," Larry Parsons, 29 January 2011

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