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Signalling system & trucker at fault in Portage fatal train collision

:Saturday, April 17, 1999

USA: The driver of a truck that blocked a railway line and the crossing signalling system that allowed him to do so
Portage wreckage
Photo: WGN-TV
Wreckage on top of the South Shore RR train

are blamed for a fatal rail crash last year according to a report issued by the Federal Railroad Administration in the US.

Two passengers and a railroad employee were killed in the accident which occurred on 18 June 1998 when a South Shore RR struck the double-trailer truck near Portage, Indiana.

The truck was leaving a steelworks where it had collected a load consisting of 3 steel coils, together weighing about 50 tons. The road crossed two sets of rail lines, both double tracked. The first carries trains of the South Shore RR and the other belongs to CSX.

The crossings are each protected by half-barrier gates and flashing, warning lights which are linked to both set of tracks. This should provide warnings to each crossing of approaching trains on either of the lines. There is however a difference in the method used by each railroad. Conrail's system provides a warning 45 seconds before the arrival of a train whereas the South Shore line allows 26 seconds before activating the crossing.

On this occasion, the truck was halted by the lowering of the barriers at the Conrail line leaving the truck trailer straddling the South Shore tracks. While waiting for the Conrail train to pass, the other set of gates lowered as a two-car South Shore RR train approached. The truck driver saw the train, but could do nothing to move out of the way because of the 9000 foot-long Conrail train which was still passing.

The commuter train was travelling at about 68 mph and 500 feet away when the engineer spotted the danger. Although he applied the brakes, the speed reduced to only around 42 mph before the inevitable collision.

The coils of steel were dislodged from the truck by the force of the impact. One of these tore through the first car where the fatalities occured.

The findings of the FRA report state ``The probable cause of the accident was failure of the vehicle [truck] operator to yield the right of way to an oncoming passenger train. Contributing to the collision was grade crossing active warning devices that fail to allow highway vehicles adequate room to clear the path of trains between the tracks".

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created on:   Saturday, April 17, 1999 12:29 PM

Copyright © David Fry 1999

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