Investigators were able to locate the remains of two of three missing crew members who had been missing since the head-on collision of two freight trains in the Texas Panhandle yesterday. The third missing crew member is presumed dead, while a fourth was able to jump from his train just before impact Tuesday. The one known surviving crew member was transported to a local hospital, where he is listed in stable condition, with injuries not considered life-threatening.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) discovered the bodies as they sifted through the still-smoldering wreckage of the two BNSF Railway locomotives that crashed near the town of Panhandle, which is located about 40 miles northwest of Amarillo.
This Texas train wreck occurred when the two freight trains were traveling on the same track in opposite directions at the time of the wreck. The impact triggered a huge fireball that could be seen for miles and caused numerous containers and freight cars to tumble into a twisted mess as much as 400 yards from the crash site. Tuesday night, floodlights were brought in to aid first responders in their efforts to put out the flames, so that they could begin searching for the three missing crew members.
One reason for the fireball and the huge fire that was continuing to smolder a day later is that one of the trains had earlier stopped in Amarillo to refuel for its trip to Chicago. The other train was headed to Los Angeles. Perhaps luckily, both trains were not carrying hazardous materials. Instead, they were pulling stacked containers of consumer goods, like paper, clothing, and electronics. Investigators are unsure how fast the trains were going, but according to BNSF, they were traveling below the posted 70 mph speed limit in that area. It is unclear why both trains were using the same track.
Although BNSF has pledged to meet a 2018 federal deadline to adopt positive train control (PTC) technology, which relies on GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train positions and automatically slows or stops trains that are in danger of an accident, such technology has not yet been implemented on the stretch of track where the collision occurred. The NTSB said that this type of collision is exactly the type of accident PTC can prevent. For their part, BNSF stated that they were “aggressively” pursuing it “across our network.”
While accidents involving trains hitting trucks or cars aren’t unusual, two trains crashing into each other is actually rare. Yet, it’s the second one in a few years in which two BNSF trains collided. In September 2013, three trains were involved in a wreck near Amarillo that injured five crew members. According to the NTSB report, the fault in that accident was a crew member in one train, who improperly proceeded past a signal, striking the rear of a stationary train, derailing cars, which were then struck by a train passing in the opposite direction.
Obviously, since technology is available to prevent these types of train wrecks, that technology should be implemented as a matter of course. If these trains had been pulling cars filled with oil, gas or other volatile chemicals, which is a common occurrence in this part of Texas, an accident like this could have been much more devastating.
If you or a loved one are injured or killed in any sort of transportation accident, please contact the Transportation Accident Lawyer at the Hill Law Firm as soon as possible, so that we can conduct a complete investigation and help you protect your rights under the law.