Harrison County

Biloxi closes Main Street railroad crossing to buses, trucks

Biloxi public works employees Frank Lassere, left, and George Juanico make ‘no truck’ signs Friday, March 10, 2017, to put up at the Main Street railroad crossing in response to the train-bus wreck Tuesday and another bus trying to cross the tracks Friday.
Biloxi public works employees Frank Lassere, left, and George Juanico make ‘no truck’ signs Friday, March 10, 2017, to put up at the Main Street railroad crossing in response to the train-bus wreck Tuesday and another bus trying to cross the tracks Friday. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

The city closed the Main Street railroad crossing to buses and larger trucks Friday in response to the mayor’s order to prevent accidents there and at other “problematic” areas.

Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich ordered the closure Friday, telling the public works traffic division to make the signs and erect them at the Main Street crossing by Friday afternoon, city spokesman Vincent Creel said.

Two signs were posted on the south side of the tracks and one was placed on the north side. Creel said other signs will be placed at some other crossings next week.

Gilich ordered the closure — which doesn’t affect cars and pickups — after police and firefighters stopped a commercial bus from trying to cross the Main Street railroad tracks, the site where four people died and eight were critically injured Tuesday in a train-charter bus crash.

“The mayor decided to take action in problematic areas after another bus tried to cross the Main Street tracks,” Creel said.

The signs will say no buses and no trucks are allowed to cross railroad tracks with low-ground clearance.

A steep incline on the north side of the Main Street tracks is a critical issue in a National Transportation Safety Board investigation of Tuesday’s crash involving a charter bus broadsided by a CSX Railroad freight train.

A total of 50 people — senior citizens on a trip from Bastrop, Texas — were on the charter bus that crashed. Forty-four people were taken to five area hospitals for emergency treatment or observation.

A candlelight vigil has been planned for Sunday night in Biloxi to remember the victims of the crash.

Response on Friday

In Friday’s incident, a police officer happened to be on the south side of the Main Street tracks and firefighters were on the north side, heading for an briefing on the bus-crash response, Creel said.

Both of them flipped on their lights to stop the bus about 9:50 a.m., he said.

“The bus had not made it up to the crossing,” Fire Chief Joe Boney said.

Officers kept the road clear of other motor vehicles while the passenger bus backed away from the crossing.

A Sun Herald reader reported the bus was a Greyhound bound for Orlando, Florida. City officials could not immediately confirm that.

The easiest routes to reach casinos in Biloxi’s Back Bay are the Bayview Avenue exit off I-110 or Caillavet Street from U.S. 90, Creel said. The city’s other casinos are off U.S. 90.

‘Stomachs were turning’

“One thing thing I’ve been told is the first responders’ stomachs were turning (Friday) because the bus was seconds from getting on the crossing,” Creel said.

Counselors were made available to firefighters Friday for those who felt the need to talk with someone about Tuesday’s crash, he said. “For the first of the first responders to reach the crash, it was especially rough.”

In Tuesday’s crash, a charter bus became stuck straddling the railroad tracks and though the CSX engineer saw the bus and applied emergency brakes from 510 feet away, it was only enough to slow the train from 26 to 16 mph before impact, Robert Sumwalt, NTSB member, said in a news conference Thursday.

The speed for trains in the area is 45 mph, but trains slowing in that area of Biloxi because of drawbridge work and related traffic, Sumwalt said.

Three lawsuits have been filed since the crash and others are likely. One is on behalf of the son of Peggy Hoffman, 73, killed with her husband, Kenneth, 82. Another is by Darwyn and Marie Hanna, who were seriously injured. Also killed were Clinton Havarn, 79, and Deborah Orr, 62. All four are from the Bastrop/Austin, Texas, area.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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