Charles, a 29-year-old painter, tried to beat an 83-car freight train across the railroad tracks yesterday and lost. Fortunately for Charles and his two friends, the train hit the bed of his pickup truck. The force of the impact separated the rear of the truck from the front. The rear end of the pickup flew about 200 feet west of the front end. The train was traveling at 50 miles an hour through an industrial district. It was fully loaded with appliances and new vehicles from the east coast. There were no mechanical arms or flashing lights at the railroad crossing -- only a stop sign on either side of the two-lane road.
The accident occurred at 4:30 p.m. on a sunny afternoon. Charles and his two co-workers had stopped at a neighborhood liquor store at about 3:45. There they had bought a case of bottled beer that was on sale for $9.95. By the time they got to the railroad crossing, they were all feeling good. They saw the train coming and they heard the horn blowing.
"I was going to stop," said Charles. "But Tommy told me that the train wasn't even close. He said that if he was driving, he could drive over the tracks, make a U-turn, drive over the tracks again, and then drink a whole beer before the train arrived."
When the police arrived, all three friends were sitting on the ground under a shade tree about 50 feet from the front end of the truck. None of them were even scratched. The train and crew suffered no damage or injuries. The engineer just shook his head.
"They think it's exciting, but it's just stupid," the engineer said. "These guys might be in jail for a little while. But I guarantee you within a year they'll be out drinking and driving and racing trains again."
The police charged Charles with driving under the influence, running a stop sign, causing an accident, reckless endangerment, and littering—broken beer bottles were all over the place. They charged his two friends with drinking in a moving vehicle and littering.
A city official said there are no plans to install flashing lights and mechanical arms at this crossing, partly because not enough accidents occur there and partly because the city does not have sufficient funds to pay for such safety equipment.