The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released its factual report of the June 24, 2011, railroad crossing accident in Nevada involving a semi truck with two trailers and an Amtrak train that killed the truck driver, a train crew member, and four train passengers. One train crew member and four passengers were seriously injured, and 58 passengers received minor injuries. The information below is from the NTSB factual report.

On Friday, June 24, 2011, about 11:19 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, a 2008 Peterbilt truck in combination with two 2007 side-dump trailers was traveling north on U.S. Highway 95 (US 95) in the vicinity of Miriam, Churchill County, Nevada. The truck and trailers (not loaded at the time of the accident) were owned by John Davis Trucking of Battle Mountain, NV. The truck driver was 43 years old.

The combination haul truck was approaching a protected railroad grade crossing, which was owned and operated by the Union Pacific Railroad, but was also used by Amtrak passenger trains. At this location, US 95 is a two-lane, paved asphalt highway with a posted speed limit of 70 mph. According to NTSB, the truck’s “black box” data recorder was too badly damaged by fire to show the truck’s speed or the brake status at the time of the crash. The driver behind the truck told NTSB that he thought the truck was traveling at about 65 miles per hour.

In advance of the railroad crossing, the highway has a railroad crossing warning sign and pavement markings to alert motorists. The railroad crossing was protected by crossing gates and flashing red lights.

At the same time that the combination vehicle was nearing the crossing, Amtrak train #5, the California Zephyr, was approaching from the northeast. The train was on a scheduled trip from Chicago, Illinois, to Emeryville, California. Amtrak train #5 consisted of (from the front to the rear) two locomotive units, a baggage car, a crew car, three coach cars, a lounge car, a dining car, and three sleeper cars.

A video camera and microphone mounted externally to the front of the train revealed that as the train approached the crossing, the locomotive horn was being operated and the crossing gates were in the down position to block highway traffic. Amtrak crew also testified that they heard the horn and saw the gates down.

The investigation, based on skid mark evidence and eye witness accounts, found that the haul truck failed to stop before reaching the grade crossing and collided with the train. Tire marks from the rear of the truck were found in the northbound travel lane, beginning at a point about 247- 299 feet prior to impact. The tire marks eventually crossed over the highway center line and into the southbound traffic lane before terminating at the crossing.

The truck tractor struck the left side of the crew car. During the collision, the truck tractor became embedded in the crew car, and a post-crash fire ensued. The fire consumed the truck tractor, the crew car, and the passenger car directly behind it. There were a total of 14 train crew members and 195 passengers on-board Amtrak train #5.

Accident Factors

  1. The NTSB found evidence that the truck’s brakes were defective.
  2. The truck driver, who had worked for John Davis Trucking for about six months, had received 11 speeding tickets and been ticketed for other violations, including  inattentive driving and improper lane location, prior to the accident.
  3. The truck driver made 30 outgoing cell phone calls while driving, and received an incoming call routed to voicemail from a John Davis Trucking driver two minutes before the accident.

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