Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich had just returned to City Hall from lunch Tuesday when he heard a train had hit a bus just a block away.
While he was out, he saw an empty bus parked near the post office and thought that might be the bus involved.
“That’s what I hoped,” he said.
He arrived at the site within about 10 minutes and saw tarps covering bodies and the police and fire departments treating victims in a field near the accident site.
On Wednesday, he, along with police Chief John Miller and Fire Chief Joe Boney, will meet with inspectors from the National Transportation and Safety Bureau, which is investigating what went wrong.
The city has seen many accidents at the railroad crossings over the years. This was the worst he and many others have seen, with four dead and nearly 50 injured.
The problem with this crossing is the angle of the road on each side of the tracks. The road isn’t as steep on the south side as the drop-off is on the north, Gilich says, using his hands to indicate the angles. Buses bottom out and have no traction, so they are stuck in place.
“It happens even with limousines,” Gilich said.
In March 2016, a tour bus with 28 people on board became lodged on the tracks at the same area, and accounts say police halted train traffic and the situation ended with no injuries.
This time there was no stopping the CSX train.
CSX has 50 feet of right-of-way from the center on both sides of the track, said Vincent Creel, Biloxi’s public relations director.
But Gilich said something has to be done. At Porter Avenue, several blocks west of the Main Street accident site, one side of the road was raised so there wouldn’t be problems, he said.
Biloxi already was working with CSX to close six of the most dangerous crossings, and Main Street wasn’t one of those identified. Some of those on the list have no safety gates or lights.
A council meeting to look at the crossings was scheduled for March 21, and city officials will take a close look.