Highway Accident Report

Highway-Railroad Grade Crossing Collision

Midland, Texas
November 15, 2012

NTSB Number: HAR-13-02
NTIS Number: PB2014-100830
Adopted: November 5, 2013
PDF

Executive Summary

About 4:35 p.m. central standard time on Thursday, November 15, 2012, in Midland, Texas, a freight train collided with a parade float at a highway-railroad grade crossing, resulting in 4 fatalities and 12 injuries.

The float, which consisted of a 2006 Peterbilt truck-tractor in combination with a 2005 Transcraft D-Eagle drop-deck flatbed semitrailer, was traveling south on South Garfield Street as part of a parade procession honoring US military men and women. The truck-tractor was driven by a 50-year-old male, and the flatbed was occupied by 12 veterans and their spouses. The float was flanked by two law enforcement escort vehicles.

The float continued along South Garfield Street until it reached the intersection of West Front Avenue, where the traffic signal displayed red. Law enforcement personnel stationed to block cross traffic permitted the float and its escorts to continue across the intersection unhindered. About 80 feet south of the West Front Avenue intersection was a highway–railroad grade crossing equipped with warning bells, warning lights, and an automatic gate assembly. As the float approached, the grade crossing warning system activated. The float continued across the railroad tracks at an estimated speed of 5 mph, and the grade crossing gate descended on the flatbed, striking several of the flag poles lining its right side.

At about the same time, a Union Pacific Railroad (Union Pacific) freight train, consisting of 4 locomotives and 84 loaded freight cars, approached the South Garfield Street crossing from the west at a speed of 62 mph. The engineer sounded the horn and placed the train into emergency braking as the front of the float crossed the tracks. The train reached the crossing and struck the right rear of the float, causing the flatbed to rotate clockwise 122 degrees. As the flatbed rotated, it struck several occupants who were evacuating the float. It also struck a stationary 2008 Ford Crown Victoria occupied by a sheriff's deputy. The collision did not cause the train to derail.

As a result of the collision, four float passengers were killed. Eleven float passengers were injured, and the sheriff's deputy was also injured. The two train crewmembers, the float driver, and nine other float passengers were not injured.

 

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determines that the probable cause of this collision was the failure of the city of Midland and the parade organizer, "Show of Support, Military Hunt, Inc." (Show of Support), to identify and mitigate the risks associated with routing a parade through a highway-railroad grade crossing. Contributing to the collision was the lack of traffic signal cues to indicate to law enforcement that an approaching train had preempted the normal highway traffic signal sequence at the intersection of South Garfield Street and West Front Avenue. Further contributing to the collision was an expectancy of safety on the part of the float driver, created by the presence of law enforcement personnel as escorts and for traffic control, leading him to believe that he could turn his attention to his side-view mirrors to monitor the well-being of the parade float occupants as he negotiated a dip in the roadway on approach to the grade crossing.

 

Recommendations

New Recommendations

As a result of this investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following new safety recommendations:

To the Federal Highway Administration:

Work with the Federal Railroad Administration to (1) include guidance in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) for the installation of advance warning devices, such as movement-activated blank-out signs, that specifically use the word "train" to indicate the preemption of highway traffic signals by an approaching train, and (2) amend the MUTCD to indicate that preemption confirmation lights, while not intended to provide guidance to the general public, would be useful in providing advance information on train movements to law enforcement and emergency responders.(H-13-41)

To the Federal Railroad Administration:

Work with the Federal Highway Administration to (1) include guidance in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) for the installation of advance warning devices, such as movement-activated blank-out signs, that specifically use the word "train" to indicate the preemption of highway traffic signals by an approaching train, and (2) amend the MUTCD to indicate that preemption confirmation lights, while not intended to provide guidance to the general public, would be useful in providing advance information on train movements to law enforcement and emergency responders. (R-13-38)

To the city of Midland, Texas:

Include in your city ordinances a requirement that all organizations create a safety plan as part of the city's event and parade approval process, to include, at a minimum, the following elements: route selection, mitigation of unavoidable hazards, lines of communication among event participants, notification of railroads or other entities with control over possible hazards, development of operating and emergency procedures, and a safety briefing for vehicle operators. (H-13-42)

To the National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, National Association of Towns and Townships, United States Conference of Mayors, and International City/County Management Association:

Encourage your members to require, as part of the parade and special event approval process, that organizations create a written safety plan, which, at a minimum, addresses the following elements: risk mitigation and contingency planning, with provisions for communication among event participants and other stakeholders; safety briefings for event participants and other stakeholders; driver and vehicle screening; safe float operation; and notification of railroads or other entities with control over possible hazards. (H-13-43)

To the International City/County Management Association:

With the assistance of the International Festivals and Events Association, National League of Cities, and National Association of Counties, develop and disseminate a list of key elements that state and local officials can use as a resource to create guidelines, standard operating procedures, or ordinances for the safe planning and operation of parades and other special events. (H-13-44)

To the International Festivals and Events Association, National League of Cities, and National Association of Counties:

Assist the International City/County Management Association in developing and disseminating a list of key elements that state and local officials can use as a resource to create guidelines, standard operating procedures, or ordinances for the safe planning and operation of parades and other special events. (H-13-45)