The Longmeadow public works employee who was killed by an Amtrak train while plowing snow during Tuesday’s nor’easter is being remembered as an affable, hard-working colleague.
Warren Cowles, 59, had worked for the Western Massachusetts town for more than 29 years. He died when the dump truck he was using to clear snow was struck by an oncoming train.
“He made the guys around him better,” Town Manager Stephen Crane said of the man affectionately known as “Cowlesie.”
Cowles was a veteran employee of town’s public works department, where he was known for his infectious “get-it-done attitude,” said the director, Mario Mazza.
“His positive attitude and work ethic brought out the best in everyone he worked with,” Mazza said in a statement. “We will miss him every day.”
The public works department is tight-knit, and Cowles’s co-workers are taking his death hard, Crane said.
“For me, personally, the hardest part has been seeing the sense of loss in the men and women in the department, and knowing how close they are,” Crane said by telephone.
Funeral arrangements for Cowles are not yet known, the statement said.
Cowles died instantly, when his truck was struck about 4 p.m. by an Amtrak train with a plow that was clearing snow from the tracks, according to the statement.
The train was headed northbound to Springfield at the time of the crash and no passengers were on board, according to Amtrak.
The cause of the crash is still being investigated by state, local, and Amtrak police.
Based on an initial investigation, it appears that Cowles backed onto the tracks and into the path of the train, said Amtrak spokesman Mike Tolbert.
At the time of the incident, the powerful storm brought fog and high winds to Western Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.
In Westfield, about 14 miles west of Longmeadow, visibility shortly before 4 p.m was about a quarter mile, largely due to fog and blowing snow, meteorologist William Babcock said.
Northeast winds were blowing at about 20 miles per hour, and the temperature was 27 degrees, he said.
About 13 inches of snow fell in Longmeadow, Babcock said.
Cowles was clearing snow from Birnie Road, near the intersection of Pondside Road, when he was struck, Crane said.
Thomas Lachiusa, vice chairman of the town’s select board, said he is concerned that there are no electronic signals at the location to warn motorists of oncoming trains.
He would like Amtrak officials to meet with the board to discuss improved signaling.
“We want to know our workers are safe,” said Lachiusa in an interview.
The crash is the sixth involving a train and a vehicle reported at that crossing since 1975, according to records kept by the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis.
Two people died in a May 1981 crash after their car was stopped on the tracks, and two others died in crashes with trains in 1975 and 1982, according to those records.
In a statement, Tolbert said that Amtrak works in partnership with government authorities and other railroads to prevent crashes, injuries, and deaths at railroad crossings.
Amtrak also works with Operation Lifesaver, he said, which is a national nonprofit group that offers educational programs to improve safety at crossings.
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.