Bourbonnais train accident

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Railway transport

Aerial view (looking south) of the derailed train.
Aerial view (looking south) of the derailed train.

The Bourbonnais train accident was a train-truck collision between Amtrak's southbound City of New Orleans passenger train and a semi truck in the city of Bourbonnais, Illinois, south of Chicago. The impact derailed almost the entire train, killing 11 passengers. A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the accident attributed the cause to the truck driver trying to beat the train across a grade crossing. The NTSB's recommendations from the accident included increased enforcement of grade crossing signals, the installation of event recorders at all new or improved grade crossings as well as procedures to provide emergency responders with accurate lists of all crew members and passengers aboard trains. The city of Bourbonnais erected a memorial near the site to commemorate those killed in the accident.

Accident and investigation

The accident occurred March 15, 1999, at 9:47pm Central (local) time in Bourbonnais, Illinois, in the United States on the Illinois Central Railroad. The southbound Amtrak train 59, the City of New Orleans, hit a semi truck, loaded with steel, that was blocking a grade crossing. The accident resulted in the deaths of 11 of the train's passengers, 122 injuries and over US$14 million in damages.

Upon impact, both of the train's locomotives and 11 of the train's 14 passenger cars derailed; the derailed cars hit two of the 10 freight cars on a siding next to the mainline. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) attributes the cause of the accident to the truck driver's reaction to the grade crossing signals. Thinking he could beat the train across the tracks, the driver chose to proceed onto the tracks in front of the train. The driver reported that the crossing signal did not activate until his vehicle was "right on top of the track", but he also stated that he did not want to brake quickly to avoid a shifting load that could hit the back of the truck's cab. Witnesses stated that the gates came down after the truck had entered the grade crossing. One witness stated that the gate clipped the truck's trailer and that part of the gate may have broken off as a result.

The NTSB's investigation placed the fault of the accident on the truck driver, John R. Stokes, and his failure to yield at the grade crossing; Stokes was sentenced September 21, 2004, to two years in prison for logbook and hours of service violations. In the sentencing trial Kankakee County Judge Clark Erickson stated that it was not proven if a lack of rest played a factor in the accident but that he believed Stokes would have been more able to make safe driving decisions if he had been fully rested.

Following the accident the city of Bourbonnais erected a memorial to the people that died in the tragic accident. It can be seen on the intersection of Highway 45 and 102 across from Olivet Nazerene University.

NTSB recommendations

As a result of the accident, the NTSB made several recommendations:

To the highway maintainers:
  • Review the effectiveness of current railroad grade crossing signals and the use of traffic division islands in deterring motorists from trying to drive around crossing gates.
To the United States Secretary of Transportation:
  • Provide further grants and incentives to increase enforcement of grade crossing signals.
To the United States Federal Railroad Administration:
  • Require the installation of event recorders to monitor gate position at new or improved grade crossings.
To the railroads:
  • Initiate procedures to get accurate passenger and crew lists to emergency responders.
  • Implement improved crew accountability procedures on reserved passenger trains.
  • Install event recorders on all new or improved grade crossings.

Related information

On Tuesday January 17, 2006, the Village Board of Bourbonnais voted to permanently close the grade crossing where the accident occurred. A replacement crossing will be built at another location nearby that will, the Village Board hopes, prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future.

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