NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


SECOND UPDATE ON NTSB INVESTIGATION INTO NEW MEXICO FREIGHT TRAIN COLLISION

March 10, 2004

The National Transportation Safety Board launched a Go Team to investigate the collision of two Union Pacific freight trains in Carrizozo, New Mexico, at 7:54 a.m. MST, February 21, 2004. The two crewmembers of the eastbound train died in the collision; the two crewmembers aboard the westbound train were not injured. This is an update of the Board's investigation.

During the course of the investigation, NTSB investigators were informed that a green leafy substance and smoking paraphernalia were found on the remains of the eastbound train's engineer. These were taken to the State of New Mexico, Department of Public Safety's Crime Lab in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The green leafy substance and burnt vegetation from the smoking paraphernalia tested positive for marijuana.

The accident met the threshold for mandatory post accident toxicological testing of the train crews involved, including the fatally injured crewmembers, under the regulations of the Federal Railroad Administration. The NTSB has been informed of the results. Toxicological results from the westbound grain train crew and the eastbound train deceased conductor were negative for all drugs tested. Toxicological results from the deceased engineer from the eastbound train were positive for marijuana. The NTSB is arranging for further toxicological testing on additional samples at a separate facility.

The crew of the eastbound train had passed three wayside signals that informed the crew of the need to reduce speed and to be prepared to stop their train before passing the last signal, which was just before the point of the collision. The signal testing by the NTSB signal group, which included representatives from the Federal Railroad Administration and the State of New Mexico railroad inspectors, determined that the signal system had displayed the correct signal aspects for the train to reduce speed and stop before the collision.

Event recorder data indicated that the throttle of the eastbound train was in a high power setting and that the speed of the train was not reduced in a manner that would comply with signal indications. Sight distance testing at the location of the signals in advance of the location of the accident and at the location of the stop signal at the point of the collision revealed no sight obstruction to the signals. The event recorders from both locomotives of the striking (eastbound) train recorded a speed of 36 mph at impact, with no input from the crew for several miles before the collision, including no braking action before impact.

The crew of the eastbound train was on duty for 7 hours and 34 minutes before the accident. Investigators reviewed the amount of off-duty time that was available for the crews to have rest before starting on the trip in which the accident occurred and found that the engineer had been off duty for 26 hours and 55 minutes. The conductor of the eastbound train had been off duty for 12 hours and 50 minutes. Federal law permits crewmembers to work a maximum of 12 consecutive hours.

The NTSB's investigation continues.

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.