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I-Team: Family Of Woman Killed In Wilmington Train Crash Wants Answers For 'Systemic Failure'

WILMINGTON (CBS) - Roberta Sausville Devine, who most called "Robbi", had recently retired and was looking forward to her next chapter when she was tragically killed. Her stepson Jim Devine tells the I-Team, "our lives have changed forever by this."

It was just before 6 p.m. on January 21. Robbi was driving across the Middlesex Avenue Railroad crossing in Wilmington when her car was hit by a train.

Hairstylist Sandra Gracia was working nearby. "I saw the train, my client said that train is not stopping," Gracia said.

Jim says getting the news was just devastating. "I remember yelling at my brother did the gates close," he said.

The gates did not close and because it is a quiet zone no whistle blew. Robbi had no warning that a train was approaching.

Roberta Sausville Devine
Roberta Sausville Devine. (Family photo)

"The railroad can be a fairly dangerous place if the rules that are in place are not enforced and followed," said railroad expert Robert Halstead.

So what went wrong? The MBTA says there were no problems with the infrastructure or its safety systems at the crossing, but says it is eying human error as the cause.

The T acknowledged that less than an hour before the accident, a signal maintainer for Keolis, the commuter rail operator, was testing the safety system- and it was not turned back on. That worker was later put on administrative leave.

"I wouldn't put him on suspension, I would have put all his bosses on suspension," said Carl Berkowitz, a railroad accident reconstruction expert. "You see a lot of mistakes here not just one person who failed to make sure the gate was operational. I think there was human error not only on the mechanic and his supervisors but human error on the part of the train operator not identifying that the gate was not operating…as he got closer and closer he could see the gates were not down because he would not see the lights flashing there are lights on the gates."

Wilmington train
Middlesex Ave railroad cross in Wilmington (WBZ-TV)

In addition to what railroad experts say was a failure of training and supervision, the I-Team learned there are systems to avoid accidents at railroad crossings. They're called warning detection systems and they've been around for years.

They work by using sensors, infrared and surveillance cameras to detect people, cars or anything else on the tracks and provide real time information to the train driver and folks in the operation center. As for why we aren't using it, experts tell us the U.S. is testing it and has been for 20 years.

For Robbi's grieving family, knowing her death could have been preventable is heartbreaking. "All the early signs seem to show systemic failure," Jim Devine said. "It's terrible. She was a wonderful person she just gave so much of herself to everything. This shouldn't happen to any family."

The Federal Railroad Administration, the MBTA and the Middlesex District Attorney's office is investigating the crash. Keolis said it is committed to working with investigators.

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