Highway Accident Report

Highway-Railroad Grade Crossing Collision US Highway 95

Miriam, Nevada
June 24, 2011

NTSB Number: HAR-12-03
NTIS Number: PB2013-103891
Adopted: December 11, 2012
PDF


Executive Summary

On Friday, June 24, 2011, about 11:19 a.m. Pacific daylight time, a 2008 Peterbilt truck-tractor occupied by a 43-year-old driver was traveling north on US Highway 95 near Miriam, Nevada. The truck-tractor was pulling two empty 2007 side-dump trailers. As it approached an active highway-railroad grade crossing consisting of two cantilever signal masts with flashing lights and two crossing gate arms in the descended position, it failed to stop and struck the left side of Amtrak train no. 5, which was passing through the grade crossing from the northeast. The collision destroyed the truck-tractor and two passenger railcars. The train came to a stop without derailing; however, a fire ensued, engulfing two railcars and damaging a third railcar. The accident killed the truck driver, the train conductor, and four train passengers; 15 train passengers and one crewmember were injured.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determines that the probable cause of the Miriam, Nevada, accident was the truck driver's delayed braking and the failure of John Davis Trucking to adequately maintain the brakes on the accident truck. Contributing to the number of fatalities and the severity of injuries was insufficient passenger railcar side impact strength.

The accident investigation focused on the following safety issues:

Commercial driver fatigue and distraction: Despite visual cues provided by the active grade crossing directly in front of him, the truck driver did not begin skidding and depositing tire marks on the roadway until it was too late to avoid a collision with the passing train.

Commercial driver license and employment history: The accident driver's employer was not required to obtain a full history of his motor vehicle-related violations and suspensions; and the driver provided the employer with an incomplete account of his 10-year employment history, which prevented the employer from making an informed hiring decision. This accident is the fourth NTSB investigation in the past 2 years where a commercial driver's employment and license history was at issue.

Commercial vehicle brake maintenance: The brakes of the accident truck were improperly maintained, and their poor condition increased the stopping distance of the truck. This factor—in addition to the driver's delayed braking—led to the collision with the train.

Passenger railcar crashworthiness and fire protection: When the accident truck struck the Amtrak train, it penetrated two railcars and resulted in a loss of occupant survival space for the train crew and passengers. In addition, an estimated 100 gallons of diesel fuel from the truck ignited a fire that spread across three railcars. The NTSB examined whether the implementation of measures to improve passenger railcar crashworthiness and fire protection could have affected the outcome of this accident.

Grade crossing action plans: The NTSB evaluated the grade crossing warning systems at the accident site to determine whether improvements could be made to alert inattentive drivers to approaching trains. Federal legislation requires states to conduct and systematically maintain a survey of all highways to identify those grade crossings that may require separation, relocation, or protective devices. However, not all states choose to, nor are they required to, create a planning document outlining how they would methodically and systematically reduce grade crossing accidents. The NTSB considered whether a uniform model grade crossing safety action plan is needed to help states systematically improve grade crossing safety.

Recommendations

As a result of this investigation, the NTSB makes recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Nevada Highway Patrol, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the American Trucking Associations, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the Towing and Recovery Association of America Inc., the American Bus Association, the United Motorcoach Association, and John Davis Trucking Company, Inc.