October 18, 2013

Portland police identify man killed by train

Why the city man was on the tracks and why he was unable to get out of the way are still unclear.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Portland police released the identity Thursday of the man who was killed by a train Wednesday night, but said they still don’t know why he was walking along the tracks or why he could not avoid being hit.

click image to enlarge

Investigators survey the scene of a fatal accident along train tracks between Forest Avenue and Irving Street in Portland on Wednesday night. A man who was walking along the tracks was struck and killed by a freight train.

Nicholas Gervin photo

Richard Cobb, 54, of Portland was walking south along tracks that run parallel to Forest Avenue toward Woodfords Corner when he saw the train approach from the north, police said.

“This guy stepped off to the side but not quite enough,” Lt. Bob Ridge said Wednesday. “Something off the side of the train hit him.”

Cobb, who did not have a fixed address, died at the scene.

The tracks cross Forest Avenue near one of Portland’s most congested intersections, where seven roads converge in a 200-foot stretch.

The accident, reported at 7:15 p.m., halted the 84-car train, hauling goods including lumber and paper, for nearly three hours, snarling traffic in the area. It also forced an Amtrak Downeaster train to cancel its run to Brunswick. Passengers were put on buses instead.

The train started up again after police from Pan Am Railways, which owns the tracks, arrived and cleared the scene.

Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president of Pan Am Railways, said only that the railroad’s police are investigating the accident in conjunction with local authorities.

Portland police Lt. James Sweatt said Thursday that police will continue their investigation. He encouraged anyone who might have seen the accident to contact him.

Police have interviewed the train’s conductor and some people who responded to the accident after hearing horns and screeching brakes.

It was not known Thursday how fast the train was going when it hit Cobb.

It is illegal to trespass on train tracks, and many areas are posted with signs warning pedestrians to stay clear. Sweatt said police often work with railroad officials to get signs posted in congested areas, but he couldn’t say whether there are signs in the area of Wednesday’s accident.

Accidents that kill people walking along train tracks are rare in Maine. In the last 20 years, there have been 28 deaths statewide, according to data from the Federal Railroad Administration. There has been no more than one fatality involving a pedestrian and a train in any year since 2006, when there were four.

Nationwide, there have been an average of 914 fatal crashes involving trains and pedestrians annually since 1993. The Federal Railroad Administration estimates that as many as one-quarter of those deaths are suicides. Portland police said Cobb’s death is not being investigated as a suicide.

The last fatality involving a train and a pedestrian in Maine occurred in April 2012 in Biddeford. Sean Page, 40, was hit by an Amtrak train while he walked on the tracks near his home. Police said Page was wearing earbud-style headphones and did not hear the train coming.

In August, a man was seriously injured when he was hit by a Downeaster train in Scarborough. Charles Hope, a 36-year-old transient, was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.

And in May, a Portland man lost a leg after trying to jump on a moving train. Matthew Morris, 19, fell and the train ran over him, severing one leg above the knee.

Today’s trains make less noise and their crews often do not use horns in some areas, said Fred Hirsch, state coordinator of Maine Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent train accidents.

“Any or all of these factors are likely to contribute to the increase in serious injury or death on the railroad’s private right of way,” he said.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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