NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


NTSB BOARD CITES TRUCK DRIVER'S ACTIONS IN 1999 ILLINOIS TRAIN ACCIDENT THAT KILLED 11

February 5, 2002

Washington, D.C. -- The National Transportation Safety Board today determined that the probable cause of the collision between Amtrak train 59 and a truck tractor-semitrailer combination vehicle in Bourbonnais, Illinois, was the truck driver's inappropriate response to the grade crossing warning devices and his judgment, likely impaired by fatigue, that he could cross the tracks before the arrival of the train.  Contributing to the accident was Melco Transfer, Inc.'s failure to provide driver oversight sufficient to detect or prevent driver fatigue as a result of excessive driving or on-duty periods.

On March 15, 1999, about 9:47 P.M., Amtrak train 59, with 207 passengers and 21 railroad employees on board and operating on Illinois Central Railroad main line tracks, struck and destroyed the loaded trailer of a tractor-semitrailer combination in Bourbonnais, Illinois. The accident resulted in 11 deaths and 122 injuries.  Both locomotives and 11 of the 14 cars derailed.

The Safety Board's investigation determined the following facts: (1) the truck-tractor semitrailer was traveling between 7 and 14 mph at the time of the collision; (2) grade crossing signal lights began flashing at least 26 seconds before the train's arrival; (3) both crossing gates likely lowered as designed as the accident truck approached the crossing; and (4) the truckdriver had ample time to stop his truck safely and avoid an accident, but likely, as a result of fatigue, he failed to respond appropriately to the signals and instead decided to attempt to cross the tracks ahead of the train.

As a result of its investigation, the Safety Board made the following safety recommendations:
 
To the U.S. Department of Transportation:
Provide Federal highway safety incentive grants to States to advance innovative pilot programs designed to increase enforcement of grade crossing traffic laws at both active and passive crossings.
 
To the Federal Railroad Administration:
For all railroads that install new or upgraded grade crossing warning systems that include crossing gates and that are equipped with event recorders, require that the information captured by those event recorders include the position of the deployed gates.
 
To All Regional Railroads:
For all your new and upgraded grade crossing warning systems that include crossing gates and that are equipped with event recorders, ensure that the information captured by those event recorders includes the position of the deployed gates.
 
To the National Passenger Railroad Corporation:
In fulfilling your Federal mandate to help prepare emergency responders to respond to an accident involving Amtrak equipment, emphasize to those responders the possibility that such an accident could result in large quantities of burning diesel fuel and urge them to be prepared to respond to this specific hazard.

To the International Association of Fire Chiefs:
 Inform your membership of the circumstances surrounding the emergency response to the March 15, 1999, grade crossing accident in Bourbonnais, Illinois, and of the need for responders to prepare for train accidents that may result in significant diesel fuel fires.

A synopsis of this accident report is available on the Safety Board's website at http://www.ntsb.gov/Publictn/2002/RAR0201.htm. A copy of the entire report will be available on the website in a few weeks. Paper copies of the report, when available, can be purchased from the National Technical Information Service (800) 533-NTIS.

NTSB Media Contact:
Terry N. Williams
202-314-6100
williat@ntsb.gov

 

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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.