BRATTLEBORO — A local man died after attempting to cross the railroad bridge next to North Bridge while a train was coming, according to police.
On Monday, Brattleboro Police Department announced Nicholas O. Widomski, 26, of Brattleboro, died from injuries after he was transported to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital on Sunday afternoon. Police said they believe Widomski was struck by an Amtrak train while he and Harrison H. Johnson, 22, of Marlboro, were attempting to cross the railroad bridge. Johnson was treated for minor injuries and released at the scene.
Police said the train operator saw the two men on the tracks while traveling southbound. Emergency stop procedures were then put into place.
"Preliminary results of the investigation indicates one of the persons appeared to have been struck by the train as it passed by," Det. Lt. Michael Carrier wrote in a press release. "The train stopped further down the tracks and emergency services were notified and responded to the scene."
According to police, Widomski will be transported to the Chief Medial Examiner's Office in Burlington for an autopsy. His death is also being investigated by Amtrak Police and Brattleboro Police Department's Criminal Investigation Division.
Brattleboro Police Capt. Mark Carignan said the railroad tracks — from approximately Bridge Street to Exit 3 — are private property owned by the railroad company.
"We regularly go down and move people along," he said, adding that no-trespass violations are given out. "Because you should not be on the tracks. More important than it being against the law, God forbid, you can get hit by a train."
The two-dimensional aspect of trains, Carignan said, is "very deceiving." Telling what speed the train is traveling at and how far away it is can be extremely difficult.
"A lot of times, you think it's coming from one direction but it's coming from another," he said. "You can be on a straightaway and think you're safe but that's not the case."
Injuries are not unusual for people walking or congregating along the tracks, Carignan told the Reformer.
In 2012, a 12-year-old boy was struck by a train and killed in Vernon. A year later, a woman was walking along the tracks in Brattleboro near the North Bridge and jumped to avoid the train. She was injured by rocks where she fell.
At the end of September, a train going northbound nearly hit a family of three in the same location near the North Bridge.
"We started running. I fell down on the tracks," said Cindy Hatt, of Westmoreland, N.H. "We wanted to make a big deal out of it because there's nothing posted there and there was no sound. We never heard the train coming."
Hatt wants signs put up saying the bridge is active and used by trains. She said she is writing a letter to raise those concerns but also to apologize to the conductor who was in shock following the incident.
"We felt bad for him having to go through that because it was horror," said Hatt. "We had three seconds to react. You don't know what to do."
Christopher Parker, executive director of Vermont Rail Action Network, said railroads are "dramatically safer" than driving and that 95 percent of the injuries and fatalities occurring on tracks involve trespassers or people who drive past signals at railroad cross.
While noting his sympathy for the victims and their families, Parker said he wanted to see that others do not have to go through similar situations.
"There is a public education opportunity here," he said. "We can reduce future injuries and deaths by reminding people not to take chances."