On Wednesday, January 31, 2018, about 11:16 a.m., a 2018 Freightliner refuse truck operated by Time Disposal, LLC, was traveling south on Lanetown Road near Crozet, Virginia. The truck was occupied by a 30-year-old driver and two passengers, who were en route to help another crew collect refuse. The truck’s route required traversing a highway–railroad grade crossing on Lanetown Road, at railroad milepost 195.85 of the Buckingham Branch Railroad (BBR). The grade crossing is located on a curved segment of the track and is equipped with an active warning system consisting of flashing warning lights, bells, and gate arms that lower at a train’s approach.
At the same time, a chartered passenger train operated by Amtrak, comprising two locomotives and eight cars, which had departed Washington, DC, earlier that morning, was traveling west toward the crossing at a recorded speed of 60 mph. The train engineer stated in a postcrash interview that when the grade crossing on Lanetown Road came into view, he saw the warning lights flashing and the refuse truck drive around the lowered gate arms, but he believed the truck had sufficient time to clear the tracks. The engineer reported that he saw the truck stop on the tracks and remain stationary; after determining that the truck was not moving, the engineer put the train into emergency braking.
About 3 seconds after the engineer engaged the emergency brake, the train struck the left rear side of the refuse truck, at a speed of 35 mph. The truck rotated counterclockwise, collided with a railroad signal bungalow and a mailbox structure on the southwest corner of the crossing, and came to rest about 26 feet south of the south rail, parallel to the tracks and with the front end against the west edge of Lanetown Road. The truck’s hopper—the container into which refuse is loaded—was displaced. The train came to a stop 20 seconds later, with the front axle of the lead locomotive derailed.
A police officer traveling in the lead locomotive reported that as the grade crossing came into view, he saw the truck move across the tracks and then stop “with the back end of the truck still hanging over the tracks.” The driver of a car that was traveling south on Lanetown Road and had reached the grade crossing reported seeing the refuse truck stopped on the tracks, with the gate arms lowered and the warning lights flashing. The witness stated that within a few seconds of his arrival, he saw a train approach from the east and moments later strike the refuse truck. The witness stated that he did not see the truck move at any point before the impact.
We determined that the probable cause of the crash in Crozet, Virginia, was the truck driver’s decision to enter an active grade crossing and his inaction when he encountered obstacles while attempting to cross the railroad tracks, most likely due to his impairment from the combined effects of the drugs marijuana and gabapentin. Contributing to the severity of the injuries was the lack of seat belt use by the truck occupants.