NTSB to Set Cause of Rail-Truck Crash

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- According to the Chicago Tribune, the probable cause of the fatal accident involving an Amtrak train and a steel-hauling truck near Bourbonnais three years ago will be determined at a public hearing Feb. 5 in Washington, officials at the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday.

Eleven people riding inside a sleeper car on Amtrak's City of New Orleans were killed, and more than 120 other passengers were injured on March 15, 1999, when the train struck the rear axle of the flatbed truck as it almost cleared the tracks. The train, which derailed and caught fire, had left about an hour earlier from Union Station in Chicago.

Conflicting testimony by witnesses and rail experts concerning the likely cause of the accident marked earlier hearings that the Safety Board conducted in Chicago in September 1999. The slow progress of the investigation has upset survivors and families of the victims.

On Feb. 5, the staff of the Safety Board will issue its final report based on a physical reconstruction of the accident and forensic analysis of the railroad equipment. The NTSB members will then vote on the staff's proposed conclusion and issue recommendations aimed at preventing similar accidents.

The outcome of the hearing could have sweeping ramifications for the railroad industry.

A number of experts, while stating that the truck driver in the Bourbonnais crash most likely contributed to the accident, have said they believe a malfunction occurred in the crossing system's signaling device.

The malfunction effectively reduced the amount of time the blinking lights and gates were in operation before the 79-m.p.h. train arrived.