NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


TRAFFIC SIGNAL DESIGN CITED IN COMMUTER TRAIN - TRUCK COLLISION IN CALIFORNIA

December 2, 2003 

Washington, DC - The National Transportation Safety Board today determined that the probable cause of the collision earlier this year between a commuter train and a truck in Burbank, CA, was "the design of the traffic signals' railroad hold interval, which displayed a flashing red arrow for the eastbound North San Fernando Boulevard left turn lane onto North Buena Vista Street."

The accident occurred on January 6, 2003, about 9:30 AM (PST), when eastbound Metrolink commuter train #210 struck a Ford F-550 crew cab, stake bed truck at the North Buena Vista Street grade crossing. Impact forces and post-crash fire destroyed the truck; the driver was fatally injured. The train derailed and came to rest about 1300 feet beyond the crossing. Of the 59 passengers and two crewmembers on board, 32 sustained injuries. One passenger, who was treated and released from a local hospital, died 15 days later.

"In 2002, there were over 3,000 accidents with 356 fatalities at grade crossings," said NTSB Chairman Ellen G. Engleman. "They can be prevented if we are vigilant and aggressive in pursuing needed safety improvements."

In this accident, the collision occurred when the truck driver made a shallow left turn onto North Buena Vista Street after activation of the flashing red left turn arrow. The signal system was functioning as designed, the Board said, and the truck driver acted accordingly, stopping his vehicle for the continuous red arrow that governed the left turn lane; only after that arrow changed to the all-red-flash mode did he proceed into the intersection and onto the crossing, and the collision occurred.

The Board found that the truck driver lost "situational awareness" in a confusing environment that "required significant mental alertness." Consequently, he missed the cues calling attention to an approaching train.

Use of the all-red-flash mode for traffic signals at a railroad grade crossing, the Board said, has ambiguous meaning, can be confusing to motorists, and, as a result, creates unnecessary risks to life and property.

As a result of the investigation, the Board recommended that the California Department of Transportation prohibit the all-red-flash option for traffic signal indications during the railroad hold interval at grade crossings.

The Board also recommended that the City of Burbank install a raised median or other barrier system at the accident site. Other recommendations made by the Board deal with limiting the use of highway traffic signals in the all-red- flash mode and the dissemination of traffic and safety engineering guidelines.

A synopsis of the accident investigation report, including the findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations, can be found on the Publications page of the Board's web site, http://www.ntsb.gov. The complete report will be available in about six weeks.

NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100

 

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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.