Alarming Train Accident

August 11, 1994

The tendency whenever a pedestrian is involved in a train accident is to assume a suicide or some other horrible error on the part of the victim. But in the case of a 39-year-old woman who was struck and killed by a northbound CSX freight train as she walked on a pedestrian crosswalk at the MARC train depot in Laurel Tuesday, the normal assumptions seem not to apply.

There is no evidence that Marsha E. Saponari intended to commit suicide when she crossed the tracks shortly after 8:30 a.m. on her way to work in Washington. But there are questions about whether the train sounded an alarm as it approached the crosswalk, or sounded the alarm too late.

Witnesses at the scene appear to disagree about whether a warning alarm was heard. John Giannetti, a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates, was campaigning at the station Tuesday when the incident occurred. He says he did not hear horns or a warning device from the freight train. "Usually you hear a whistle or something prior to it coming, but we heard nothing until it was right there," Mr. Giannetti said.

But Kathy Burns, a spokeswoman at CSX's Jacksonville, Fla., headquarters, said horns, headlights and bells were sounded by the Baltimore-bound train, which was traveling at approximately 50 mph. "The crew was acting properly on the entire operation of the train," she said.

The Federal Railroad Administration has launched an investigation into the Laurel accident. All the possible scenarios should be explored in the interest of safety. While the MARC system is an important asset to the commuting population, the ** public has a right to feel safeguarded when using the trains.

ANOTHER COMMUTER ISSUE of interest these days is the U.S. 29 corridor in Howard, which appears to be under a perpetual state of construction. The good news is that work on the highway north of Route 108 is near completion.

Barriers that restricted northbound traffic are expected to be removed next week, giving motorists access to three lanes. Upgrading the southbound lanes in the same area will take several weeks more and should cause some delays. After that, the bottlenecks should finally dissipate.

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