NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


March 5, 1996

(Washington, D.C.) -- A trucking company's failure to provide appropriate driver emergency training led to a truckdriver's lack of awareness of the incompatibility of a "hump" grade crossing design and the "lowbed" tractor trailer he was operating, plus his lack of proper emergency notification actions were cited in the derailment of an AMTRAK passenger train at a grade crossing near Sycamore, South Carolina, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Contributing to the accident was the absence of emergency notification information that the driver may have used to notify the railroad of the blocked crossing.

About 2:35 a.m. on May 2, 1995, AMTRAK train No. 81, the Silver Star, on its southbound run from New York City to Tampa, Florida, struck an O&J Gordon Trucking Company tractor-lowbed semitrailer combination that had been lodged for 30 to 35 minutes on a rural, high-vertical-profile (hump), passive grade crossing about 1 mile north of Sycamore, South Carolina. At the time of the accident, the train was using a single main line track belonging to CSX Transportation, Inc. The two locomotive units and 14 cars of the 16-car train derailed. The tractor and semitrailer were substantially damaged. No fire ensued.

The train was carrying 279 passengers, 9 service crew members, and 5 operating crew members. Thirty-three persons sustained minor injuries. Combined property damage to the train and truck exceeded $1 million.

The Safety Board said that the truck, as configured, could not safely travel over the crossing because of the crossing's substandard geometric characteristics and, although the driver may have been fatigued at the time his truck became lodged on the crossing, fatigue did not influence the decisions he made or the actions he took before or after his truck became lodged on the crossing.

The Safety Board stated that, like many truckdrivers, this driver was untrained in grade crossing safety and emergency notification procedures and was therefore unprepared to react appropriately to this situation. Had the driver taken the appropriate action and notified authorities shortly after becoming lodged, the Safety Board noted, this accident would probably not have occurred. It is unfortunate, the Safety Board said, that the carrier did not properly manage the driver's job assignments after normal business hours or more importantly, provide any training for emergency situations.

The Safety Board noted that the O&J Gordon Trucking Company consisted of the owner, his wife and the one truck driver.

The Board found that had emergency notification information been posted at the accident crossing, the truckdriver would have had an opportunity to use it to notify the railroad, thereby possibly avoiding the accident.

Even if the AMTRAK operating crew had seen the truck on the crossing at their first opportunity, the Safety Board said, they would not have had sufficient distance to stop the train and avoid the collision.

The Board's investigation established that the initial responding police officer could have made a better effort to assess possible injuries among train passengers and crew before informing the dispatcher that medical assistance was not needed but that the Allendale Fire Department and County Emergency Services responded appropriately, quickly administered medical treatment to injured persons, and efficiently evacuated the train.

The Safety Board remains concerned that railroads and public entities do not routinely communicate with each other on grade crossing maintenance activities.

As a result of its investigation of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board made 15 recommendations which included:

--to the O&J Gordon Trucking Company:

  • Establish a program than ensures driver conformance with hours-of-service and medical certification requirements.
  • Establish a contingency plan that addresses on-the-road emergencies and that provides drivers with guidance in dealing with potentially hazardous situations such as having a vehicle stall or become lodged on a grade crossing.
  • --to the Secretary of Transportation:

    --to the American Public Transit Association:

    --to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators:

    --to the American Trucking Associations:

    --to Class I railroads and railroad systems:

    The Safety Board's complete printed report, PB-96-916201 may be purchased from the National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA 22161. The number is (703) 487-4650.

    Press Contact: Alan Pollock
    (202) 314-6100



    The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
    of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.