On Wednesday, January 14, 2015, about 7:50 a.m. local time, a 2015 Blue Bird Vision prison bus was traveling westbound on Interstate 20 (I-20) near Penwell, Texas, when it departed the roadway and collided with a moving train. The bus, operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), was occupied by 12 inmates and three correctional officers (including the driver). The trip began about 4:40 a.m. at the John Middleton Transfer Facility in Abilene. The destination was the Rogelio Sanchez State Jail in El Paso (figure 1).
. Map showing bus route and crash location on I-20, near Penwell, Texas.
At the time of the bus roadway departure, a Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS) trooper was stopped on the right shoulder of I-20 westbound, investigating a previous crash. The video camera in that vehicle captured a portion of the crash sequence. The bus was traveling in the left lane at an estimated speed of 57 mph. As the bus approached a two-lane bridge, it was positioned behind one truck-tractor semitrailer combination vehicle and alongside another combination vehicle. A section of W-beam guardrail, damaged in a previous crash, was partially intruding into the left lane. Although the driver applied the brakes momentarily, the bus struck this section of the guardrail and moved sharply to the left.
The bus departed the left edge of the westbound roadway, overrode the previously damaged guardrail, entered the median, and became airborne between the westbound and eastbound parallel bridges. At the same time, a Union Pacific (UP) freight train was traveling southbound under the highway overpass. The bus fell about 20 feet onto an earthen area at the base of a concrete slope, on the east side of the railroad tracks, and continued forward, striking an intermodal flatcar. The train redirected the bus southward, and the left side of the bus collided with pillars supporting the eastbound bridge. The bus body and separated components came to rest along the east side of the tracks, about 220 feet south of the impact area (figure 2). Although the train stopped, it did not derail. (See “Railroad Tracks and Freight Train” for additional discussion.)
. Aerial view of highway overpass with parallel bridges, railroad tracks, and final rest positions of bus body and components. (Source: TxDPS)
At the time of the crash, light mist precipitation was present with no snow accumulation. Icy road conditions on the eastbound approach had previously been reported, resulting in several single-vehicle crashes, including at least three median crossover crashes and damage to the guardrail.
The prison bus crash resulted in 10 fatalities: two correctional officers (including the driver) and eight inmates. The remaining five bus occupantsone correctional officer and four inmatessustained serious injuries and were transported to Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. No members of the train crew were injured.