NTSB concludes truck driver in 1999 Amtrak collision 'impaired by fatigue'

On February 5, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a final report blaming the fatal 1999 collision between an Amtrak train and a tractor-trailer on the truck driver's failure to stop when he heard the warning bells and saw the crossing gates.

The truck driver drove around the safety gates at the grade crossing in Bourbonnais, Ill., NTSB investigators said, resulting in a fiery crash that left 11 people dead and 122 injured. It also caused an estimated $14.3 million in damages.

The driver felt he could cross the tracks before the train reached the intersection, a judgment "likely impaired by fatigue," the NTSB concluded. The truck driver had only three to five hours of sleep in the 38 hours before the accident, the NTSB said.

The BLE's Safety Task force was an active participant in the NTSB's entire accident investigation process, including its public hearing and sunshine meeting, where the final report was introduced. BLE General Secretary-Treasurer W.C. "Bill" Walpert, Chairman of the Safety Task Force, recognized the participation of Safety Task Force members Carl Fields of BLE Division 682 (Hammond, Ind.), Tom O'Brien of BLE Division 520 (Joliet, Ill.) and John P. Tolman, Assistant to the International President.

NTSB investigators further concluded that the crossing gates and warning lights were working properly at the time of the crash, which happened on March 15, 1999. The accident occurred when Amtrak's City of New Orleans smashed into a tractor-trailer truck loaded with steel at a grade crossing.

An investigation by the Illinois State Police found that the gates were not working correctly at the time of the accident, but that the driver, John R. Stokes, drove past flashing red lights at the crossing. During NTSB hearings, witnesses differed on whether the crossing gate struck the trailer as Stokes drove his truck across the tracks. Stokes told authorities after the crash that he didn't see the train approaching, and claimed the bells, lights and gates started after he began crossing the tracks.

The Illinois police report agreed with the NTSB report in concluding that Stokes was "physically impaired by extreme sleep deprivation or fatigue." Federal rules require truck drivers to take an eight-hour break after 10 hours of driving, but Stokes reportedly had a much shorter rest.


2002 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers