Train Accident Leads to Trucking Company Probe
Written by Andrew Sarski on July 1, 2011
Approximately 194 passengers and fourteen crew members were aboard the Amtrak train when it was struck, five of whom were killed and twenty of whom were taken to area hospitals. The United Transportation Union reported that many of the injured Amtrak passengers were trapped inside two burning passenger cars and, as of Sunday night, five people were still unaccounted for. The National Transportation Safety Board plans to visit the offices of John Davis Trucking to review the company’s records, as well as those of the driver whose truck collided with the train. The board estimates that a full investigation of the fatal Amtrak accident could take more than a year.
Numerous Violations for Unsafe Driving and Maintenance Problems
The devastating Amtrak accident occurred when a 43-year-old John Davis Trucking driver slammed on his brakes and skidded 320 feet before crashing through the crossing gates and into the double-decker cars of the Amtrak train. The accident took place at a highway crossing about seventy miles east of Reno, Nevada, and sparked a fire so intense that it gutted the two Amtrak rail cars struck by the big-rig. The fire was so hot, in fact, that authorities have enlisted the help of at least one forensic anthropologist to help sift through the rubble and make sure they “are not missing anything.”
An investigation of the safety records of John Davis Trucking revealed that the company had incurred a string of citations for violations regarding both unsafe driving and truck maintenance problems. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, four of the seventeen maintenance violations John Davis Trucking incurred in the last two years were related to problems with braking systems, and two other citations involved worn tires. In addition to these seventeen citations, John Davis Trucking was also cited for two counts of unsafe driving in the past twenty-four months.
John Davis Trucking, based in Battle Mountain, Nevada, is a family-owned business founded in the 1970s, specializing in hauling gravel, sand and ore from mines. The National Transportation Safety Board announced Sunday that the agency had conducted nineteen random roadside inspections of John Davis Trucking trucks since last September, which resulted in seven safety citations. However, only one of these violations required taking a truck off the road. According to the company’s website, John Davis Trucking employs more than one hundred dump trucks.
Investigation of the Devastating Amtrak Collision
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, all of the traffic signals at the crossing were working properly at the time of the accident, which means they should have been visible to the truck driver from half a mile away if he was driving the 70-mph highway speed limit. According to the United Transportation Union, the deadly collision is a “confirmation that the only safe grade crossing is a grade crossing that has been separated (from roadway traffic) or closed.” Union director James Stern noted, “until we adopt the interstate highway values of no grade crossings, these accidents will continue.” According to the union, fatalities of the accident include the 43-year-old big-rig driver from Winnemucca, Nevada, and a 68-year-old conductor from South Lake Tahoe, along with at least four Amtrak passengers. Five days after the collision, there is still no new information about the five Amtrak passengers that remain missing, although investigators say they have yet to find any more victims as they sift through the burned rubble of the wreck.
Authorities are investigating the string of violations John Davis Trucking has collected over the past two years to determine whether a poorly maintained truck or driver error may have caused the accident. Toxicology and autopsy reports of the driver were due within days after the collision took place, and investigators are taking into consideration drugs, alcohol, fatigue and driver inattention. The one truck that John Davis Trucking was required to take off the road in January was being operated with tire treads so exposed it was considered an imminent hazard to public safety. Other violations included oil leaks, inoperative lamps, a driver failing to wear his seat belt, and lane restriction and cargo violations. Although it is still unclear exactly what factors caused the big-rig and Amtrak accident to occur, John Davis Trucking’s history of safety violations has prompted significant speculation.