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Death of Raan Hunter Raises Safety Issues on Widow Woman’s Crossing

In 1914, a prominent Fort Worth businessman, Col. Paul Waples, built a small crossing on the western edge of Arlington. He was killed two years later when his car was struck at the crossing by an Interurban trolley.  Nearly 96 years later on June 29, Raan Hunter suffered the same fate.

On Friday 5 p.m., Hunter arrived in the area to deliver a load of sod. For whatever reason, he pulled in front of the Amtrak train, which was travelling at 47 mph. The train slammed into Hunter’s flatbed truck and was wedged beneath the train and dragged 300 feet. He died nine days later from a severe head injury, lacerated liver, and broken ribs.

For Hunter’s wife, Megan, the railroad crossing nicknamed “Widow Woman’s Crossing” lived up to its name. Besides his widow, he is survived by six children.

“We’re dealing with a tragic loss that was senseless,” said Hunter, of Kennedale, she had been given few details about the collision by police or railroad officials.

“I’m just as dumbfounded as the next person.”

Officials reveal that there are no plans yet to make safety improvements to the private crossing that is considered to be the only active crossing on the 37-miles of Union Pacific track just between Dallas and Fort Worth without having gates.

“Stop sign-only rail crossings can be found in rural areas with a handful of cars going across a day, but in a large city where motorists are accustomed to seeing gates, bells and lights, a single stop sign could easily be ignored,” according to Peter LeCody, the president of Texas Rail Advocates, a Dallas-based nonprofit group which supports statewide rail improvements.

“Putting it together with a venue where several hundred cars cross a busy double-track rail line is an accident waiting to happen.”

Officials from Arlington City, the Howell Family Farms and Union Pacific Railroad stated that they are aware of the safety issues around the railroad crossing, and are also trying to work together to find solutions.

One option is install gates or flashing lights — an expense that can vary greatly but typically exceeds $100,000. But federal funds are unqualified since the crossing is a private property.

Another option is to build a designated alternate entrance to Howell Family Farms coming from Forest Edge Drive. This is a nearby residential street that passes under the railroad for an estimated 1,000 feet east of the farm. However, this option would likely be far more costly and would not necessarily stop or shut down Widow Woman’s Crossing.

Officials of the Texas Department of Transportation’s rail division, Amtrak, and the Federal Railroad Administration state that they will not investigate the crossing and will not have a role in paying for any of the safety improvements.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari stated that they did their own internal investigation which is limited to its crew’s performance on the day of the collision. The crew had no offense and is back on duty.

Arlington police are not doing any of the investigations because the accident was on a private property.

Arlington city administrators on the other hand stated that they hope to have a discussion with officials from Howell Family Farms and Union Pacific Railroad so that they could find ways to negotiate safety improvement to the area.

The crossing is the only entrance to Howell Family Farms, a historical property where special events often draw hundreds of people across the tracks. The present owner, Steve Howell, declined to comment on the collision, citing concerns about any ongoing investigations.

“I just know this was a sad and tragic accident,” Howell said in an e-mail, “and my heart goes out to this family.”

Hunter’s  death gives new meaning to the name Widow Woman’s Crossing.

Original story: http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/07/21/4116195/fatal-accident-at-small-railroad.html