NTSB Investigation Finds Faulty Brakes and Driver Distraction Caused Deadly 2011 Truck-Train Collision

A June 2011 collision between a tractor trailer and an Amtrak train in Nevada was the result of poorly-maintained brakes and lack of driver attention, according the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Although the NTSB has not issued a final report, it released a synopsis containing its conclusions and recommendations in mid-December 2012, specifically stating that greater attention from the driver might have prevented the accident. Distracted driving is a serious problem among all drivers, but commercial truck drivers, when distracted, pose an especially great risk to others on the road.

At about 11:19 a.m. on June 24, 2011, a Peterbilt truck-tractor was heading north on U.S. Route 95, about seventy miles east of Reno, Nevada near the town of Miriam. The truck was leading a three-truck convoy. The other two truck drivers stopped when they saw the signal for a railroad crossing, but the lead truck did not. It collided with an Amtrak passenger train known as the California Zephyr on a trip from Chicago to the San Francisco area. According to the NTSB’s statement, the lights and signals were activated at the time of the crash, and the crossing gate arms were in the descended position. The truck was at least 2,300 feet from the crossing when the signals came on, the NTSB estimated, and the driver had a sight distance of more than a mile. Tire marks from the truck began more than one hundred yards from the tracks and continued to the point of impact. The truck was still traveling at twenty-six to thirty miles per hour when the collision occurred.

Six people died in the collision, including the truck driver, the train conductor, and four train passengers. The collision caused a fire to break out on the train, spreading to several cars. About twenty-eight people were missing in the immediate aftermath of the crash. Three days later, at least five people were still missing. Although the engineer put on the emergency brakes before the collision, the train traveled about half a mile before coming to a complete stop. People initially believed to be missing later turned out to have disembarked the train at an earlier station or gotten off once the train stopped.

The investigation of the crash first found that the trucking company had multiple citations from the state of Nevada for poor vehicle maintenance, accidents, and dangerous driving. The NTSB found that the company did not maintain the brakes on the tractor trailer properly, with excessive wear to eleven of the sixteen brake drums. This contributed to the tractor trailer’s failure to stop in time. The train also had structural faults that contributed to the damage, including inadequate side-impact protection and a lack of fire doors to keep fires from spreading between cars.

The NTSB placed a substantial amount of responsibility for the crash on the truck driver, noting that he should have been able to stop in time. It concluded that the crossing signals did not malfunction prior to the crash, and that weather conditions at the time allowed the truck driver to see the signal from a far enough distance to stop. It also ruled out the influence of drugs or alcohol. The precise reason for the driver’s distraction may never be known, although the NTSB suggested fatigue, pain from a medical condition, or cell phone use as possible causes.

Trucking accident attorney Doug Horn is an advocate for safe driving in the greater Kansas City area. He represents the rights of people who have suffered injuries or lost loved ones due to the negligent or illegal conduct of others. Contact us today online or at (816) 795-7500 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

Web Resources:

Highway Accident Report: Highway-Railroad Grade Crossing Collision, U.S. Highway 95, Miriam, Nevada, June 24, 2011 (PDF file); National Transportation Safety Board; December 11, 2012 (source)

Photo credit: ‘112xRP – Flickr – drewj1946’ by Drew Jacksich from San Jose, CA, The Republic of California (112xRP) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.