A tractor-trailer carrying a 127-ton load – so large that it required a special permit and a state trooper escort, got stuck at a difficult railroad crossing with enough time to warn train dispatchers, However, there’s no indication anyone alerted Amtrak before a passenger train crashed into it, injuring at least 55 people.
The truck was pulling an electrical distribution center nearly 16 feet tall and 16 feet wide, built by PCX Corp. in Clayton, North Carolina, for a customer in New Jersey, the Times Union reported.
The load stretched for 164 feet – longer than half a football field – and required 13 axles to distribute the truck and load’s combined weight which equated to 255,000 pounds, the permit shows.
The tractor-trailer took a back roads route that included some tight squeezes, including a sharp left turn in Halifax, North Carolina, from a two-lane road, over the tracks and onto another two-lane road where it ended up getting stuck.
A former federal railroad regulator told the AP that a clearly established protocol requires constant contact between a truck driver, the trooper escort and the train dispatcher when trucks carry oversized cargo across tracks.
However, State Highway Patrol spokesman Jeff Gordon said the drivers, not troopers, are responsible for warning trains.
Protocol calls for troopers escorting trucks to “clear their routes and inform the railroad dispatchers what they’re doing,” said Steve Ditmeyer, a former Federal Railroad Administration official who teaches railway management at Michigan State University.
Even if they lose contact, they are still able to reach a dispatcher through toll-free numbers that have been posted at crossings for decades, Ditmeyer said.
“That dispatcher would have immediately put up a red signal for Amtrak and radioed Amtrak to stop,” he said.
CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay declined to comment if anyone called before the crash. “That’s all going to be part of the investigation,” she said.