Originally created 11/23/04

Railroad re-enacts fatal crash

GRANITEVILLE - Norfolk Southern safety officials spent nearly three hours Monday morning re-creating the scene of the deadly Nov. 10 car-train collision that killed five textile workers at a cramped crossing with limited visibility.

With a locomotive towing two cars and a gray Buick Century like the one Connie Bodie was driving when it was struck by a fast-moving train, railroad officials spent nearly three hours moving vehicles and recording sight lines at each stage of the approach to the crossing.

Traffic traveling past Ascauga Lake Road and Canal Street was rerouted. At the end of the test, safety officials photographed the Buick with its front bumper just over the tracks and the locomotive less than 30 yards away.

Norfolk Southern officials would not give any details on Monday's test scenario but did say their safety officials were acting alone, with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office called in only to help with traffic.

"We've conducted the same type of review in other accidents," said Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay.

Though state and local officials are calling for slower train speeds through the congested mill villages of Graniteville and Aiken County's Midland Valley, Ms. Terpay said Norfolk Southern has yet to receive any formal requests.

"Right now we'll work with the local community, but I don't have any information about plans to reduce speeds," she said.

The track where the fatal accident occurred has a maximum speed of 60 mph, federal railway officials said, but Norfolk Southern has set a top speed of 49 mph for trains moving through Graniteville and 45 mph at the Ascauga Lake Road crossing.

Aiken County officials, including county council Chairman Ronnie Young and Graniteville-Vaucluse-Warrenville Volunteer Fire Chief Phil Napier, say that is far too fast for the cramped confines of Graniteville, home to seven Avondale Mills textile plants.

State Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley, the chairman of the Aiken County legislative delegation, wrote a letter last week to U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, R-S.C., and the South Carolina Department of Transportation, petitioning them to put up crossing arms at the ungated scene of the accident, where Ascauga Lake Road intersects Canal Street.

However, Dick Jenkins, the state Transportation Department's chief engineer in charge of South Carolina's 3,800 railroad crossings, said there isn't enough space for a gated signal at the site. To create enough space, county and state officials would have to spend about $500,000 to reroute Canal Street, which tightly hugs the eastern side of the track.

Motorists approaching the crossing from the west have to cross a short bridge over a canal before reaching the railway, and their vision of the track is obscured by trees and a signal box.

Mr. Napier said slowing train speeds would be the most effective way to curb the severity of future accidents.

"The only alternative is to slow the train down," he said.

Reach Jim Nesbitt at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or jim.nesbitt@augustachronicle.com.

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Norfolk Southern officials say they have yet to receive formal requests from Aiken County officials to slow trains through Graniteville.


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