GOP train crash: Railroad crossing safety arms face scrutiny

CROZET, Va. (AP) — The lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board said it is too early to state whether the safety arms at a metropolitan Virginia crossing were functioning every time a train carrying GOP members of Congress slammed into a trash truck, killing one truck passenger.

Drivers who regularly cross over the monitors said they’d seen the safety equipment appear to be malfunctioning per day before Wednesday’s accident.

Pete Kotowski, the lead writer for the NTSB, said researchers would run an exhaustive investigation into the accident, which also wounded six other individuals as lawmakers were jumped for a luxury retreat website in West Virginia for the days of strategizing.

The train was traveling “roughly 61 miles” (98 kph) only seconds before it slammed into the vehicle, Kotowski said. The speed limit at the crossing is 60 miles (97 kph), Kotowski told a news conference Thursday.

Investigators have spoken using four eyewitnesses, interviewed among the team members out of the train and also scheduled a meeting with the engineer, Kotowski said. They’re “in the process” of attempting to interview the driver of the truck, he explained.

Gene Locke, who lives near the tracks in Crozet, said he pulled up to the crossing between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and noticed that the safety arms were down along with the signal light was still flashing, but no train was coming from either direction. After waiting a moment or so, ” he backed up, turned around and took another path, assuming there was a malfunction of the signal crossing or employees were analyzing it.

“I did not report this, as it had been the very first time this has occurred in my observation since I have been utilizing that crossing for many decades,” Locke told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Jane Rogers, who lives about two miles (3 kilometers) from the crash site, said that when she arrived at the crossing Tuesday, the gate was down, though there were not any trains approaching. She stated 1 car in front of her and two cars behind her turned after waiting. As she started to turn around, the gate went. One automobile then crossed the tracks, however, Rogers said she waited the next 30 seconds and the gate went down. No trains passed, she explained.

“It was a weird up-and-down item,” she explained. “Then the following day, the incident occurred at the intersection.”

The trash business, Time Disposal, has been in business for 33 decades and has 17 drivers and 15 trucks, Kotowski said.

“The company has been subject to six emergency safety inspections using two of them resulting in vehicles being put out of service,” Kotowski said.

In addition, he said the company had two reported crashes one in 2015 and also one in 2016 — but gave no further details about those injuries.

Wednesday’s crash happened in an intersection that crosses the tracks at the peak of a mountain where attendance is limited.

Carrie Brown, human resources manager at Buckingham Branch Railroad, which rents the stretch of track and is responsible for maintenance, said Wednesday that she had been unaware of any issues with equipment at the crossing. She declined further comment Thursday and referred all queries to the NTSB.

Get news headlines sent to your inbox

No safety inspection documents for the crossing were immediately offered.

The State Corporation Commission, which inspects railroad facilities such as track and equipment, does not keep inspection documents but turns them over to the Federal Railroad Administration, SCC spokesman Andy Farmer stated.

A spokesman for the Railroad Administration said details on inspections would need a public records request.

The lawmakers were in their way to a strategy retreat in West Virginia when the collision occurred around 11:20 a.m., approximately 125 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of Washington. Kotowski said Thursday that hundreds of people were on board.

Time Disposal recognized its worker who was killed as Christopher Foley, 28, also said he had been the father of a 1-year-old boy. Six other people were hurt. One stayed in critical condition Thursday and one was in fair condition, according to the University of Virginia Medical Center. Four individuals had been released.

Associated Press writers Denise Lavoie and Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to the report.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.