An Amtrak train struck and killed a man who was crossing the tracks in downtown Durham early Tuesday afternoon.
Cenntell Tremane Thomas, 30, of Durham, was struck about 12:15 p.m. between Roxboro and Dillard streets, according to police spokeswoman Kammie Michael.
Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said the accident occurred as the westbound train, the Piedmont, was approaching the Durham station with about 30 passengers aboard. The train was delayed for slightly more than two hours while investigators worked and a replacement engineer was brought on to continue the trip.
The engineer who was operating the train at the time of the accident asked to be relieved, Woods said. None of the passengers or train crew members were injured, she said.
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Tuesday’s death was the fifth fatal train collision in Durham County in less than two years.
Before Tuesday, state Department of Transportation records showed there had been 16 train-involved fatalities in Durham County since 2004, said Jahmal Pullen with the engineering and safety branch of DOT’s rail division.
Pullen said he does not consider Durham’s figures unusually high since it is a high-population county with trains running through areas of heavy traffic.
In the same period, there were 18 train-involved fatalities in Wake County and 19 in Guilford, according to DOT records.
DOT records fatality cases as “trespassing,” in which a victim is on tracks illegally, or as “crossing collisions” at road crossings. Pullen said 13 of the Durham fatalities were cases of trespassing, as were 10 of those in Wake County and 17 in Guilford. The crossing collisions all involved vehicles, he said.
One fatal collision in Durham has led to safety improvements at the Ellis Road crossing near Angier Avenue, where two children died after their mother’s car was caught on the tracks in backed-up traffic in 2009.
The DOT installed traffic signals that coordinate with the gates and crossing signals, and installed road signs to prohibit vehicles queuing up on the tracks.
DOT, the city of Durham, Durham County and the Norfolk Southern railroad are also collaborating on a long-range “traffic separation” project to improve safety at 18 grade crossings and two bridges along the N.C. Railroad line across the county. Norfolk Southern leases the track, which is also used by passenger trains running between Charlotte and Raleigh.
A study conducted for that project recommended improvements for each crossing, some involving extensive and costly reconstruction work such as replacing the Mangum and Blackwell-Corcoran street grade crossings downtown with underpasses. The Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization has recommended those for state funding, though the project has met opposition from some Durham residents.
New crossing signs, better-delineated pedestrian crossings, improved lighting and measures to “discourage trespassing between crossings” are some less-expensive recommendations likely to be done in the nearer future, city Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen said.