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19 Mar 99



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USA: Train crash - evidence mounts against trucker

Evidence is building against a driver whose truck was struck by the 'City of New Orleans' in the worst

Photo: AP Photo
Crash investigators simulate the accident
US rail accident for 3 years.

The accident occurred on a rail crossing near Bourbonnais, Illinois on Monday March 15, 1999 when the train carrying 216 passengers and crew collided with a semi-trailer truck laden with steel rods. Eleven people were killed and 116 injured.

The crossing at Bourbonnais is designed to give road users a minimum of 26 seconds warning of an approaching train. Lineside sensors are placed about 3400 feet either side of the crossing. When these are activated by a passing train the crossing lights start to flash a bell sounds. About five seconds later, the half barriers are lowered to create a physical barrier to road traffic. NTSB investigators have confirmed that the equipment was in working order¹.

Recreating the events of Monday night's crash, investigators have determined that the truck driver would have been able to see the train's headlight when it was 644 feet from the crossing. At the maximum permitted speed for the train of 79 mph, there would be about 5½ seconds before it reached the crossing².

The tractor unit of the truck having cleared the crossing before the impact this evidence seems to imply that the truck was on the crossing while the lights were flashing and the gates lowered.

Tyre tracks in mud by the side of the crossing, if they are shown to have been made by the truck would confirm this and suggest that the driver had zig-zagged his way over the crossing.

In a recent development, an eyewitness has been found who was driving a car behind the truck. Despite intitial difficulties with language (the man's first language is Spanish), it is reported that he confirms that the truck entered the crossing while the gates were lowered. It has been reported that the engineer told investigators that the truck was on the crossing while the lights were flashing. NTSB officials are having to wait before interviewing him again as he is currently under sedation in hospital.

The crash at Bourbonnais is believed to be the first train/truck accident in which rail passengers have been killed. The crossing is on tracks owned by the Illinois Central Railroad and is used by 40 trains and around 1800 road vehicles each day. It has been the site of three other fatalities, in 1964, 1968 and 1988.

¹ Yahoo.AP, Witness: Trucker Ran Railroad Lights, 19 March 1999
² New York Times, Man Asserts Trucker Tried to Pass Gates Before Crash, 19 March 1999

CNN;   Chicago Tribune;   Yahoo/Associated Press;   New York Times;   Agence France Presse

Earlier reports:

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No room for complacency on crossings despite fewer accidents

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Where does corporate responsibility go now?

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Prohibition notice upheld by tribunal after Ladbroke Grove railway accident

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Passenger and freight trains collide in north west Russia

26 Jan 2000
Montana Rail Link and I&M Rail Link Launch New Highway-Rail Safety Program

21 Jan 2000


Full Coverage

Evidence at odds with eyewitness account
Chicago Tribune 18/03/99

Amtrak derailment toll climbs to 12
CNN 16/03/99

Amtrak Supports Passengers and Families in Bourbonnais
Amtrak web site

Birmingham Steel Corporation Issues Statement on Illinois Train Accident
Company Press Release

Vehicles on Tracks a Train Problem

National Transportation Safety Board
Home page

Related items

Images from Boubonnais

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Collision on the Brunswick Line
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created on:   March 19, 1999

Copyright © David Fry 1999

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