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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 4, 2008

After surviving two-train crash
Salerno charged for failing to stop at crossing

By Jo E. Prout

NEW SCOTLAND — One week after surviving two train impacts in the space of a minute, Peter Salerno was charged with failing to stop at a railroad crossing, a misdemeanor.

“This was an accident,” Albany County Sheriff James L. Campbell told The Enterprise Wednesday. “He wasn’t reckless. His attention was to the eastbound train.”

The camera viewer on the westbound CSX train, the first train that hit Salerno’s Land Rover, showed that Salerno entered the crossing and failed to stop, the Albany County Sheriff’s department said in a Nov. 28 release; the westbound train was going 43 miles per hour and the train engineer blew the horn for 20 seconds before the truck was hit, the release said, citing information from “the black box located on the engine of the train.”

The second eastbound train, which did not have a camera, was traveling 50 miles per hour, according to the release, which said, “The horn and bell on this train had also been activated for one quarter of a mile.”

Salerno is to appear in town court on Dec. 18. Campbell said that a Class A misdemeanor could carry a penalty of up to one year in jail.

Salerno told The Enterprise this week that, on the advice of his attorneys, he could not comment on the charge or the closure of the crossing. Salerno had spoken to the press last week about the crossing being dangerous; plans to close the crossing are now being considered. (See related story.)

Safety guidelines issued for railway enthusiasts state that weather conditions like fog and rain can muffle the sounds of approaching trains. Wind gusts in Albany County on the date of the accident were measured at up to 32 miles per hour.

Campbell said that the train’s tape also had an audio component. Both trains, he said, blew their horns for more than 20 seconds before Salerno’s vehicle was struck.

The rail enthusiast guidelines also state that, if two or more train horns are blown simultaneously, they may not be distinguishable as separate trains.

Salerno told The Enterprise last week that he looked three times and saw only one slow-moving train. Worried that the train was slowing to a stop and would block the road, as trains have done in the past at the Youmans Road crossing, Salerno drove into the crossing.

“I definitely didn’t hear a whistle,” Salerno said last week. “We just didn’t see it. It was just moving so fast. I did not hear it whistle.”

According to a Conrail safety training manual, workers in a track’s right-of-way must ensure that their ability to hear and see approaching trains is not impaired by lights, passing or standing trains, fog, precipitation, or other physical conditions.

“Adverse weather conditions can reduce a driver’s ability to see or hear a train coming,” said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole. For this reason, he said, drivers should “adhere to safety regulations and rules.”

The Youmans Road crossing has no safety gate or flashing lights. Drivers must climb a steep hill on a one-lane road and listen for a train whistle to cross safely.

People have accidents with trains for myriad reasons, including not looking both ways or trying to beat a train, he said.

“The larger issue is, if you’re not going to cross over in the path of a train, you’re going to be safe,” Cole said.

Campbell said that the Youmans Road crossing is “really unsafe as you come in from Route 85” into the area of Salerno’s home — more so than from the direction from which Salerno was traveling.

“It’s got to be tough [crossing] at night,” Campbell said.

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