Investigation reveals confusion prior to truck-train crash in Texas

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 5/23/2013

A train engineer and a truck driver involved in a collision last November both told investigators they did not pick up on the warning signs just prior to an unthinkable crash that occurred during a parade honoring wounded veterans in Midland, TX.

It’s been six months since a flatbed tractor-trailer carrying 24 passengers during a “Hunt for Heroes” event in Midland rolled onto the tracks and was struck by a Union Pacific train traveling 62 mph. Four passengers were killed and a dozen injured.

The National Transportation Safety Board released a report on Wednesday, May 22, which shows confusion on the part of both vehicle operators in the crucial seconds before the crash.

According to the report, the train engineer hesitated before hitting the emergency brake because he did not realize until it was too late that the flatbed was carrying people.

“I just remember, you know, thinking that that’s the oddest-looking flatbed,” investigators quoted Union Pacific engineer Simon “Trey” Terrazas as saying. “I recognized right then, oh my gosh, these are people.”

The NTSB says Terrazas saw a float ahead of the flatbed clear the tracks but then saw the truck driven by Dale Hayden proceed onto the tracks.

“I start blowing my horn and he just never stopped. He just kept going,” Terrazas told investigators.

Hayden, a driver for Smith Industries and a military veteran himself, told investigators he did not see or hear any warning signals that a train was approaching as he pulled onto the tracks. When he did see the train, Hayden initially thought it was stopped or at least moving slowly.

“It looked like it was just sitting there,” Hayden said, according to the report.

According to the NTSB, the warning signals at the intersection were in working order.

In January, a Midland grand jury chose not to indict the trucker.

The investigation continues as the NTSB attempts to narrow down an exact cause. Reports on the NTSB docket show a number of factors in play, including disputes about whether Union Pacific knew about the parade in advance and whether the event organizers had secured the proper permits.

Another factor is whether a speed-limit increase for trains in 2006 from 45 mph to 70 mph allowed for enough warning time at the intersection.

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