Honorable Deborah Hersman, NTSB Board Member

Opening Statement
Chairman Deborah A. P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board
Washington, DC - December 11, 2012
Highway Accident Report - Highway-Railroad Grade Crossing Collision
Miriam, NV - June 24, 2011
(As Prepared for Delivery)


Welcome back. We now proceed to the second item on our agenda - the June 24, 2011, collision of a large truck into an Amtrak train at a grade crossing near Miriam, Nevada. I'd like to recognize Member Earl Weener for his service as spokesperson for our on-scene investigative activities.

This afternoon, staff will make presentations on the major issues of the accident investigation. The presentations will be followed by questions from the Board Members. We will then consider the conclusions, probable cause and safety recommendations. Because these are the Board's actual deliberations on the report, it may be revised as a result of actions taken during this meeting. Approximately 30 minutes after we conclude, an abstract of this report will be posted on the NTSB's website.

This collision killed the truck driver, an Amtrak train conductor, and four train passengers. In addition, 15 train passengers and one crew member were injured. On behalf of my fellow Board members and the entire NTSB staff, I offer my deepest condolences to the families and friends of the six individuals who died in this accident. For those who suffered injuries, we hope that you continue successfully in your path of recovery. Nearly 200 other passengers witnessed the aftermath of the accident.

The biggest risk in U.S. transportation remains on our roadways with more than 30,000 fatalities each year. However, through concerted rail safety education and infrastructure improvements, the number of grade crossing deaths has been steadily declining from about 600 a year twenty years ago to about 250 a year today. That is still too many losses.

The six individuals who perished last June in Nevada's high desert are not statistics. They are much more than that. Lives lived. Lives lost. And, that brings me to the point of our investigation and today's board meeting: to learn from what happened on that summer morning and issue safety recommendations to prevent future tragedies.

There are two key things we know about what happened near Miriam on June 24, 2011. One, the driver had plenty of opportunity to observe and react to the lights and gates at the crossing before the arrival of the Amtrak train. Two, we know the truck had faulty equipment — brakes that were not properly maintained.

Attention clearly needed to be paid - to driving and to vehicle maintenance.

Today, we will hear about what our investigators found and then we will outline ways to prevent future tragedies where our highways intersect with our nation's railroads.

Dr. Mayer, will you please introduce the staff.