There was no sugarcoating the incident when a tractor-trailer hauling 44,000 pounds of sugar was struck by a freight train Thursday morning in downtown Tallapoosa, after the truck got stuck on the tracks at the Georgia 100 /Alewine Avenue crossing.
No one was injured in the crash, which nonetheless left the scene of the accident dusted with a layer of white stuff that one police officer likened to a snowfall.
Tallapoosa Police Lt. Mark Worthy said officers had received a call that a tractor trailer was hung up on the tracks at about 7:14 a.m., but when Worthy arrived in response to the call, he noted that a train was approaching.
“Right when I arrived, the railroad (crossing) arms began coming down with the train coming around the curve,” said Worthy, “At that point it was too late to do anything.”
The driver had already gotten out of the truck, and Worthy could do nothing except to watch what happened next.
The train smashed into the stalled vehicle, demolishing the trailer and turning the truck cab onto its side. The cargo of sugar the truck was carrying was spilled out all over the street.
“It looked like a ball of smoke when impact took place,” said Tallapoosa Mayor Pete Bridges, “But it was actually sugar.”
The tracks in Tallapoosa are at a higher grade than the surrounding streets, so vehicles that cross the railroad have to climb over a “hump.” That rise in the roadway often ensnares tractor-trailers, even though the crossing is well posted with signs.
“This is the third truck that has been hit at this crossing on Alewine Avenue,” said Worthy. “It is because the grade is too steep, so that when the truck drops off, the legs on the trailer catch.”
Bridges said that over the years the tracks have actually gotten higher, creating even more of a drop-off.
“The (state) Department of Transportation (GDOT) has done a really good job of putting up signs stating no trucks should be crossing, but I think what it is making them go over the crossing is their GPS.”
Satellite navigation systems seem to route truck drivers over the crossing, which the drivers do in disregard of the signage.
Bridges said that the city has brought in GDOT several times. He said the state agency has done “just about everything they could” to correct things and make the crossing as safe as possible.
“An overhead sign would be great, however the railroad, I believe, will not allow us to put that up,” said Bridges. “What people may not know is that the railroad actually would love to close all railroad crossings, (or) as many as they can. They have worked on it many many times, but I think it is not the DOT’s fault because there are signs everywhere.”
When Worthy arrived at the scene, he turned on the blue lights of his vehicle, which activates the patrol car’s dashcam. But the vehicle had not been parked in such a way that the camera could catch the actual impact.
Bridges was upset because some of the untouched sugar that was sitting on pallets could not be resold, or even donated to the needy.
“Regulations requires a clean up and they say that it all has to go to a landfill,” said Bridges. “There are so many institutions that could use that sugar, but regulations say it can’t be distributed.”
Bridges was very happy to see the police department at work to help, and redirecting traffic around the town.
“Most of it is cleared but they are still cleaning up,” Tallapoosa Police Chief Scott Worthy said late Thursday afternoon. “It looked like it had snowed, but most likely will be finished up around 6 p.m.”
The chief said that the driver has been charged with failure to obey traffic control device because there are signs on both sides that read “no truck crossing.”
“It also says no trucks on the ground before you cross the railroad,” said Chief Worthy. “This is the third truck hit but they are stuck regularly, because their GPS sends them that way.”