The National Transportation Safety Board determined today that ineffective action by federal, state and private agencies to permanently resolve safety problems at the Midwest Steel grade crossing, which they knew to be a hazardous crossing, caused the fatal collision of a Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) train and a truck at a highway-rail grade crossing near Portage Indiana.
On June 18, 1998 a westbound NICTD train struck the second semitrailer of a long combination vehicle that consisted of a tractor pulling two flatbed semitrailers loaded with steel coils as the truck sat in the storage area of the Midwest Steel private grade crossing. When the train and truck collided, the second semitrailer broke away and was dragged by the front of the train. A 19- ton steel coil loaded on the second semitrailer broke loose and entered the train through the front bulkhead of the lead car, and continued into the passenger car. Three fatalities and five minor injuries resulted. Damage was estimated at $886,000.
The accident report adopted by the Board, concluded that as currently configured, the Midwest Steel grade-crossing storage area cannot safely accommodate all of the vehicles that are allowed to use it. The Board further noted that the current disparity of treatment between private and public grade crossings can place people travelling on private grade crossings at increased risk. In the case of the Midwest Steel grade crossing, the lack of clear delineation of oversight responsibility for the private crossing undermined its safety.
The Board found that the collision posts of the lead car failed due to the overwhelming force of the collision. The Board noted that the posts, as designed, could not have prevented penetration of the steel coil, given the train speed and the weight of the coil. However, the quality assurance procedures employed by the railcar's manufacturer were identified as an item of concern. The report stated that the manufacturer did not employ sufficient quality assurance procedures during the welding of the collision post structures. On another issue in the report the Board added that the train engineer might have seen the long combination vehicle sooner and been able to stop the train in time to avoid the collision if the semitrailer had been equipped with retroreflective tape.
Based on the accident investigation and the report's conclusions the Board has issued the following recommendations:
To the US Department of Transportation:
1. Eliminate any differentiations between private and public highway-rail grade crossings with regard to providing funding for, or requiring the implementation of, safety improvements.
To the Federal Railroad Administration:
2. Determine the extent of the weld quality assurance inadequacies demonstrated by Nippon Sharyo Ltd. in its collision post welds, and implement corrective action as necessary to ensure the strength of the collision posts. 3. Require 100-percent nonvisual inspection of all collision post attachment welds made on multiple-unit locomotives and passenger cars during manufacture, and require that inspection records be retained for the life of the car.
To the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Indiana Department of Transportation, the National Steel Corporation, the Midwest Steel Division, the Norfolk Southern Corporation, the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District:
4. Work together to make, within 2 years, permanent engineering changes to the Midwest Steel highway-rail grade crossing that will minimize or eliminate all safety hazards at this crossing.
5. Inspect the collision post welds of all Nippon Sharyo Ltd. railcars in your fleet and repair any welds that are deficient.
For more information about the accident and a copy of the Board's final report, please visit out website at www.ntsb.gov.