LONGMEADOW, Mass. (WWLP) – When a Longmeadow DPW worker was killed on the Birnie Road train tracks, Tuesday, it exposed a serious problem that has been ignored for decades. The 22News I-Team dug deeper into the history of this dangerous railroad crossing.
Warren Cowles was killed Tuesday doing what he did for 30 years, working for the town’s Department of Public Works. Cowles was clearing snow on Birnie Road when a train collided with the DPW truck he was driving, killing him instantly. Crews had to pull the truck out of a pond that runs alongside the tracks on Wednesday. Cowles had very little warning a train was coming on Tuesday, aside from the near blizzard conditions, the railroad crossing does not have any signaling devices.
The I-Team went back to the Birnie Road tracks on Thursday and saw a train pass by. You have less than five seconds to react once you hear it’s horn. A Longmeadow Police Officer told the I-Team he has clocked the train at 60 miles per hour. Thursday afternoon, the town closed the road at the crossing.
Cowles death wasn’t the first one to happen at this dangerous railroad crossing. There have been seven accidents involving a train at this crossing since 1975. Five people have been killed.
The 22News I-Team viewed death records at the Town of Longmeadow and in the City of Springfield. In 1981, 25 year old Peggy Eyer and 25 year old Debra Frank were killed on those tracks. In 1982, 59 year old Francis Desjarlais died in a train accident at Birnie Road. Another person was killed in 1975 on those same tracks, but we could not confirm their identity.
So who is responsible for putting up signaling devices?
Amtrak said it’s the Department of Public Utilities responsibility to put up lights and crossing sticks. A spokesperson for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which oversees the DPU told 22News that they have a role, but ultimately it is a decision between the town and Amtrak in this case. The initial cost to install these warning devices is $250,000.
22News will continue to follow this story.