Train-truck collision kills Athol man

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LOREN BENOIT/Press A flagger stops traffic as a BNSF train makes its way north through Athol on Friday as workers repair crossing arms. A 34-year-old Athol man was killed early Friday morning at the crossing when an Amtrak train collided with his pickup truck.

By RALPH BARTHOLDT

Staff Writer

ATHOL — A 34-year-old Athol man was killed early Friday when an Amtrak train collided with a pickup truck that had stopped on the railroad tracks in Athol.

Police said Robert Miller was stopped at the railroad crossing shortly after midnight when a southbound Amtrak train crashed into his 2008 Ford.

Miller, who was alone in the maroon truck, died at the scene. No one on the train was injured.

It is unknown if Miller was having car troubles or inadvertently stopped on the track before the train arrived.

Workers and investigators from Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, which owns the tracks, were on scene Friday to repair the signal and crossing arms.

Gus Melonas of BNSF public affairs said investigators from the company’s police department will work with Idaho State Police, Amtrak police and county officers on the investigation.

According to police, the westbound Amtrak train, called the Empire Builder, was carrying 234 passengers when it traveled on its daily run through Athol at 12:35 a.m. It collided with the Ford F250 pickup that was pointed west and stopped on the railroad crossing.

“There were no injuries among the passengers,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Maglieri said. “We had a two-and-a-half-hour delay and then we continued on.”

Railroads account for about 2,000 deaths annually, Maglieri said.

His company and its police force conduct an annual campaign to educate people about rail safety, he said.

Every three hours a train — usually a freight train — is delayed after making contact with a person or vehicle on the tracks, Maglieri said. A train traveling 55 mph can take approximately one mile to stop. It takes about 20 seconds for a train to cross once the lights start flashing, he said.

Apparent suicides make up about half of total pedestrian deaths, he said.

Idaho State Police Capt. John Kempf said that until the investigation is complete, his department will reserve comment.

Miller was a lifelong resident of Athol.

Kootenai County has led the state in vehicle-train collisions in recent years.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there were 29 total such accidents in Kootenai County from 2007 to 2017.

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