- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

NEW IBERIA, La. (AP) - A New Iberia railroad crossing where five people were killed is dangerously near a highway intersection, leading to traffic backups that can trap vehicles in a train’s path, safety experts say.

But state transportation officials say the crossing is not scheduled for improvements such as a traffic signal guided by sensors for approaching trains.

Since 2012, at least one train a year has hit a vehicle stopped at that crossing, The Advocate (https://bit.ly/1nrK8GR ) reports.

Phyllis Leblanc, 70, her husband, twin 12-year-old grandsons, and two of the boys’ friends were in a car hit by a passenger train there on Dec. 22. Leblanc and two girls died at the scene; her husband and one of the twins in hospitals.

The family says witnesses told them other vehicles were in front of and behind the Leblancs’ Ford Taurus, all waiting to turn from Louisiana Highway 88, which is less than two car-lengths from the crossing, to Louisiana Highway 182.

Bob Comer, an Ohio-based railroad accident investigator, said a sensor-guided traffic signal could have kept the Leblancs’ car off the tracks.

But Bill Shrewsberry, the state transportation department’s lead highway rail safety engineer, said signals can sometimes create traffic problems.

Though it doesn’t always end in a wreck, it’s common for traffic to back up over the tracks at Iberia Parish railroad crossings, Parish Councilman Tom Landry said. His district includes the Highway 88 crossing and two others he said are particular problems, both on Highway 182.

About 1,300 crossings statewide are similar, according to the Department of Transportation and Development.

About 6,100 vehicles cross the tracks at Highway 88 each day, and more than double that use the Highway 182 crossing, according to DOTD figures.

Fourteen trains use the tracks each day, according to Federal Railroad Administration crossing inventory forms, which collect traffic and safety information about railroad crossings around the country.

Freight trains can travel up to 60 mph, and the speed limit for Amtrak trains is 80 mph.

Drivers who find themselves stopped on the tracks have little time to react. According to Federal Railroad Administration rules, the gates are activated and trains are required to sound horns 15 to 20 seconds from approaching a crossing.

Crossing gates and lights were installed at the Highway 88 crossing in 2003, and a sign warning drivers against stopping on the tracks was added last year, according to DOTD.

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Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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