Police say a tractor-trailer was hung up on the railroad tracks prior to being struck by a Union Pacific train last week in California. An officer with the California Highway Patrol says the crossing at Vista Avenue near Chowchilla is well known for having low ground clearance.
Trucker Alvin Winn, 49, of Chowchilla was northbound on Vista Avenue just before 4 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19. He was operating a blue Freightliner pulling two trailers.
“As Mr. Winn’s vehicle traveled over the tracks, the landing gear on his trailer became stuck on the railroad tracks,” said Officer Johnny Fisher, public information officer for the Central Division of the California Highway Patrol.
“Mr. Winn tried freeing his vehicle from the railroad tracks; however, he was unable to do so before he observed a train approaching his location from the south. Mr. Winn exited the vehicle to get out of the train’s path.”
According to Fisher’s report, Union Pacific engineer David Phillips saw the vehicle on the tracks but was unable to stop the train in time. The collision caused the trailers to detach from the tractor, and the train carried one of the trailers down the tracks approximately half a mile.
Neither vehicle operator was injured, Fisher said. Damage to the truck was considered major, while the train sustained minor damage, he said.
Officer Jason Schoonhoven of the CHP’s Merced office is familiar with the crossing. He says the intersection is well known – and well marked – for being a potential crossing hazard for trucks.
“There are signs indicating that it is a raised railroad crossing, that vehicles can get high-centered,” Schoonhoven said. He confirmed to Land Line that the sign is a W10-5 sign indicating low ground clearance. The W10-5 sign is required at any railroad crossing that does not conform to standards outlined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
Schoonhoven said the Vista Avenue crossing has a warning sign for a reason.
“I want to say it’s probably a good five or six feet higher than the actual roadway,” he said. “The approach from the roadway to the railroad tracks is not a nice, steady incline; it’s rather steep, if you will. So that causes, from time to time, vehicles depending on the length and the height of their clearance to get high-centered on the railroad tracks.”
Schoonhoven said he did not know how long the tractor trailer was stuck on the tracks before the train approached. He also reported he did not know the speed of the train at the time of the crash.