Man avoids train by an instant
Second accident at railroad crossing in a month
Buck Chavarria said he began to slow down well ahead of the train tracks that run through the Fish Creek mobile-home park in Steamboat Springs.
But in cold and icy conditions Saturday afternoon, Chavarria’s 1990 Chevy pickup kept sliding.
“The road was just a solid sheet of ice,” he said Tuesday, recalling an incident that nearly cost him his life. “I did that creeper slide toward the tracks — I was going maybe four, five miles an hour.”
The oncoming train was going much faster.
“I slid right up to the tracks, and the train kept coming, laying on the horn,” said Chavarria, a 29-year-old electrician. “I looked up, and that train was right there — it was going to cream me.”
Unable to stop, Chavarria opened the door and jumped, just before his truck reached the tracks.
Chavarria said he missed the train by “half a second.”
“As I hit the ground, I looked up and saw the train just demolish my truck,” he said. “It was insane. I couldn’t believe it.”
The truck was totaled. Chavarria said that when he jumped, the clutch popped and the truck lurched forward onto the tracks. The train pushed it about 20 feet into a snow bank.
“I kind of lay there for a few minutes, thanking God and thinking, ‘Did that just happen?'” Chavarria said.
The accident at the railroad crossing was the second such incident in the past month.
On Dec. 22, a Union Pacific train collided with a truck driven by Anna Handcock, 23, of Steamboat Springs.
The railroad crossing is marked with a stop sign and a warning sign. But there aren’t automatic gates nor are there flashing lights to alert motorists when a train is approaching.
Handcock told police she heard the train’s whistle as she approached the tracks, but she said she could not see around a 3-foot snow bank and was inching forward when the train struck the front of her truck.
Handcock and her passenger, 26-year-old Robert Johnson, sustained minor injuries.
Chavarria said he is sore but not significantly injured. He said he knows the accident could have been much worse.
“In the big picture, it’s not that bad,” he said. “The truck’s material, it can be replaced.”
Police gave Chavarria a four-point careless driving citation. Handcock received a citation, as well.
“I’m going to have to fight it,” Chavarria said, adding that the ice on the road that day was thick enough to show reflections. A former manager of the 65-residence mobile-home park, Chavarria said he has crossed those tracks “about 5,000 times.”
“I would always tell people to be so careful, especially with kids. It’s so dangerous,” Chavarria said. None of his three children was in his truck at the time of the accident.
On Tuesday, the road leading to the tracks still was icy, and no scoria, gravel or sand had been dumped on its surface to provide traction for vehicles. A spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad said upgrades to crossings usually are negotiated with state transportation departments.
“Those signals are considered highway signals,” spokesman Mark Davis said Tuesday.
“The state determines each year which crossings get upgrades.”
Nancy Shanks, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said the road leading to the Fish Creek mobile-home park, near the Kum & Go gas station off U.S. Highway 40, is not a state road.
“The railroad crossing is not in our jurisdiction, because it’s not on a state highway,” she said. “We do get some federal funding to aid local railroad projects, and local jurisdictions could apply for some of this funding through CDOT to get some signage.”
That funding is tapped out for this year, she said.
“More funds will be available in another year and a half,” Shanks said.
Jim Weber, public works director for Steamboat Springs, could not be reached Tuesday.
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or e-mail email@example.com
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