Truck struck by Amtrak train had run out of room, police say

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 3/10/2015

It’s a situation that any truck driver would dread – making a tight left turn with an over-length trailer and not having sufficient room to clear a set of railroad tracks. That’s the situation that faced trucker John Devin Black of Claremont, N.C., on Monday, March 9, moments before an Amtrak train struck his trailer and derailed, causing injuries to 55 people.

Black had permits and North Carolina state troopers as escorts for the lengthy removable gooseneck trailer hauling a modular building. The collision occurred at 12:15 p.m. after Black prepared to turn left onto Highway 301 from Highway 903 north of Rocky Mount in Halifax County, N.C.

“Due to the trailer’s length, the driver was unable to perform the left turn successfully onto U.S. 301 north,” Lt. Jeff Gordon of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety stated in a press release.

“The driver began to reposition the trailer by backing up in order to perform a wider turn,” Gordon stated. “At that moment, the railroad crossing warning equipment was activated indicating an approaching Amtrak train. The driver attempted to pull forward but was subsequently struck by the approaching train. The impact caused the front two train compartments to derail.”

WRAL posted a video of the crash that a witness captured on a cellphone. The video shows passenger vehicles queued up behind the truck at the crossing.

Gordon said police do not plan to file criminal charges against Black, who was driving for Guy M. Turner Inc. of Greensboro, N.C.

Crews reopened Highway 301 on Tuesday, about 18 hours after the incident.

A reconstruction team was on the scene Tuesday to help determine the train speed and other factors involved in the crash.

The carrier, Guy M. Turner Inc., has an above-average safety rating according to its CSA score on the Compliance, Safety, Accountability website. The fleet has 161 vehicles and 149 drivers with a driver out-of-service rate of 1.9 percent compared to a national average of 5.5 percent.

The injured passengers were transported to Halifax Regional Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries, Gordon said. Approximately 157 people who were not injured were transported to a central location to board buses for their destinations.

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