Questions remain in truck-train crash that killed wounded veterans

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Monday, November 19, 2012

Investigators are still piecing together what happened in the aftermath of a tragic truck-train crash that occurred during a parade in Midland, TX, last Thursday, Nov. 15. Investigators were scheduled to interview the truck driver on Monday, and were checking into whether the train signal provided enough warning based on the speed of the train.

Four people were killed and 16 injured, one of them critically, after a lowboy trailer carrying wounded veterans in the parade was struck by a Union Pacific train.

Probable cause of the tragedy may take some time to sort out. Investigators reporting to the National Transportation Safety Board will take about 10 days total to collect factual information and supply it to the agency. The agency will compile the information before issuing a report on the cause.

With the mainstream focusing on why the truck was on the tracks and did not clear the tracks after the signal arms had activated, some are questioning whether the lowboy trailer was high-centered on the tracks and whether the railroad signals had provided enough warning as required by law.

Years ago, the railroad increased the maximum speed for trains from 45 mph to 70 mph at the crossing in question. Crash investigators say the train that struck the lowboy was traveling approximately 62 mph.

NTSB member spokesman Mark Rosekind, said during a recorded press conference on Sunday that the agency was checking into whether the railroad signal was re-timed following the speed-limit change for trains.

“We’re looking into that,” Rosekind said. “We know about that speed change.”

Federal guidelines dictate that a crossing signal is to supply 20 seconds of warning before a train enters the crossing, Rosekind said.

NTSB has supplied a timeline for the crash based on video supplied by the railroad and from a police dash camera.

Rosekind said the signal warning system began activating 20 seconds prior to the train entering the intersection.

According to the agency’s timeline, a truck and trailer that were ahead of the truck hauling the lowboy cleared the south tracks at the 20-second mark before impact.

At 13 seconds prior to impact, the signal arm began descending. At 12 seconds, the lowboy entered the intersection. At nine seconds, the train engineer sounded a warning that lasted four seconds. At seven seconds, the signal arm struck the float. At five seconds, the train engineer engaged the emergency brake. Following impact, the train took 75 seconds to come to a complete stop.

Rosekind said he could not give any opinions or analysis of the data provided so far.

According to records provided by the Federal Railroad Administration, the crossing in question has had 10 accidents in its history.

If the crossing elevation is indeed enough to hang up a lowboy trailer, the municipality, in conjunction with the railroad, is required to provide signage indicating low ground clearance. The NTSB has not provided any information thus far about the possibility of low ground clearance or adequate signage pertaining to clearance.

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