On Tuesday, March 7, 2017, about 2:11 p.m. central standard time, a 2016 Van Hool motorcoach, operated by ECHO Transportation and occupied by a 60-year-old driver and 49 passengers, ranging in age from 50 to 88, was traveling northbound on Main Street in Biloxi, Mississippi, having departed that afternoon from a casino in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, to travel to a casino in Biloxi. The motorcoach stopped in advance of a highway–railroad grade crossing on Main Street that had a high vertical profile.
The grade crossing was marked with (1) a crossbuck, (2) warning lights that would activate at a train’s approach, (3) a gate arm that would lower at a train’s approach, and (4) a low ground clearance grade crossing warning sign with a “LOW GROUND CLEARANCE” plaque below it on the signpost. The crossing warning system was not in active mode when the motorcoach approached, stopped, and then moved onto the railroad tracks. As the driver attempted to drive over the crossing, the frame of the motorcoach came into contact with the pavement, and the vehicle became stuck on the crossing. The driver moved the motorcoach back and forth in an attempt to dislodge it from the crossing but was unsuccessful.
As the motorcoach became stuck on the crossing, an eastbound freight train operated by CSX Transportation was approaching the crossing at a recorded speed of 27 mph while continuously sounding its warning horn. The grade crossing warning system activated when the train was about 29 seconds away; first, the warning lights began to flash, and then the gate arm began to descend 3 seconds later. As soon as he became aware of the approaching train, the motorcoach driver opened the vehicle’s loading door and told the passengers to evacuate. Due to their age and limited mobility, the passengers’ evacuation was slow and the aisleway became congested; only six passengers had safely evacuated before the train struck the grounded motorcoach.
The train engineer told investigators that he had noticed the motorcoach on the tracks ahead, but he expected it to clear the crossing before the train reached it. Once the engineer realized that the motorcoach might not clear the tracks, he put the train into emergency about 502 feet west of the crossing. About 14 seconds later, by which time the train had decelerated to about 19 mph, it struck the left side of the motorcoach, pushing it 259 feet down the tracks before coming to a stop, with the motorcoach still in contact with the lead locomotive. Four motorcoach passengers died, the driver and 37 passengers sustained injuries, and 8 passengers were uninjured. The train crewmembers were uninjured.