On June 24 of last year, a semi-truck in Nevada failed to stop in time at a railroad crossing and slammed into a double-decker Amtrak passenger car killing the truck driver, the train conductor, and four passengers. The cause is under investigation, but the National Safety Transportation Board says the railroad safety equipment was working at the time of the truck accident, noting that the intersection in question had “candolevers, lights, crossing gates, a cross bar, markings on the pavement 700 feet back, [and] a sign 900 feet back.”
While the evidence shows the big-rig driver did apply the brakes, for some undetermined reason the truck did not stop in time to avoid hitting the train. The trucking company, John Davis Trucking of Battle Mountain, Nevada, has been cited 19 times in the past for various violations, including two wrecks and unsafe driving.
Railroad crossings are fraught with potential dangers. In fact, in the U.S., nearly every 1.5 hours a vehicle and train collide. Trains move a lot faster than they appear to be moving, so vehicle drivers sometimes believe they can beat the train through the crossing. Trains also take a long time to stop, traveling as far as 1.5 miles before coming to a full stop. A little over half of all public crossings are controlled electronically, and some private railroad crossings are not even marked.
The Nevada railroad crossing had all of the safety features necessary to warn vehicles that a train was approaching, so it’s possible that negligence of the truck driver may be the cause of the collision. In addition to the violations that the driver’s trucking company had been cited for in the past, the driver of the truck had also received four tickets for speeding in the last three years, three of those for speeding while driving a school bus.
The authorities, waiting for an autopsy to determine if drugs or alcohol were involved, were also considering driver fatigue and inattention as possible causes.