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Safety Recommendation Details

Safety Recommendation R-12-040
Synopsis: On Friday, June 24, 2011, about 11:19 a.m. Pacific daylight time, a 2008 Peterbilt truck-tractor occupied by a 43-year-old driver was traveling north on US Highway 95 near Miriam, Nevada. The truck-tractor was pulling two empty 2007 side-dump trailers. As it approached an active highway–railroad grade crossing consisting of two cantilever signal masts with flashing lights and two crossing gate arms in the descended position, it failed to stop and struck the left side of Amtrak train no. 5, which was passing through the grade crossing from the northeast. The collision destroyed the truck-tractor and two passenger railcars. The train came to a stop without derailing; however, a fire ensued, engulfing two railcars and damaging a third railcar. The accident killed the truck driver, the train conductor, and four train passengers; 15 train passengers and one crewmember were injured. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determines that the probable cause of the Miriam, Nevada, accident was the truck driver’s delayed braking and the failure of John Davis Trucking to adequately maintain the brakes on the accident truck. Contributing to the number of fatalities and the severity of injuries was insufficient passenger railcar side impact strength.
Recommendation: TO THE FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION: Once the side impact crashworthiness standards are developed in Safety Recommendation R-12-39, revise 49 Code of Federal Regulations 238.217, “Side Structure,” to require that new passenger railcars be built to these standards.
Original recommendation transmittal letter: PDF
Overall Status: Open - Acceptable Response
Mode: Railroad
Location: Miriam, NV, United States
Is Reiterated: No
Is Hazmat: No
Accident #: HWY11MH012
Accident Reports: Highway-Railroad Grade Crossing Collision US Highway 95
Report #: HAR-12-03
Accident Date: 6/24/2011
Issue Date: 1/28/2013
Date Closed:
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status: FRA (Open - Acceptable Response)

Safety Recommendation History
From: NTSB
Date: 8/11/2016
Response: We encourage the FRA to continue to work with the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee’s Passenger Safety Working Group, the Engineering Task Force, and Volpe to develop standards for new passenger railcars that prevent cars from overturning and maintain a survivable interior volume for the occupants. Pending completion of the Volpe study and the development of the recommended side impact crashworthiness standards, Safety Recommendation R-12-39 remains classified “Open—Acceptable Response.” Pending completion of rulemaking to require that new passenger railcars be built to these standards, Safety Recommendation R-12-40 remains classified OPEN--ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: FRA
Date: 2/12/2015
Response: -From Sarah Feinberg, Acting Administrator: This letter is to update you on the status of the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) Safety Recommendations R-09-03, R-12-21 and R-1 2-22, R-12-39 through R-12-41 , and R-13-05, issued to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). These recommendations were assigned to our Motive Power and Equipment Division for issues pertaining to rapid egress of occupants and entry of emergency responders, crashworthiness standards, and detection of signal-emitting portable electronic devices. In the enclosure, FRA responds to the safety recommendations and explains the actions FRA has taken in response to the recommendations. Therefore, FRA respectfully requests that the NTSB classify Safety Recommendations R-09-03 and R-1 3-05 as "Closed- Acceptable Alternate Action," and Safety Recommendations R-12-22 and R-12-41 as "Closed Reconsidered." Additionally, FRA respectfully requests that Safety Recommendations R-12-21, R -12-3 9, and R -12-40 remain as "Open-Acceptable Response." I look forward to continuing to work with you on important safety issues. FRA is actively studying side impact crashworthiness. In 2012, FRA's Railroad Safety Advisory Committee's (RSAC) Engineering Task Force considered the safety concerns of side impacts, and based on existing rail equipment designs, the task force proposed to maintain the existing standard. FRA believes that more data is needed to better understand how side impact collisions affect existing designs. FRA is currently directing Volpe to conduct simulations of passenger cars undergoing significant side impacts with increasing side strengths to determine the adequacy of the current designs and the predictable safety implications of increasing the side strength. Volpe's findings may provide a basis for new regulations specifically addressing side impact crashworthiness. FRA also agrees with the task force that existing side strength requirements have been effective in reducing the number and severity of injuries resulting from the targeted accident scenarios. The requirements are largely intended to maintain a survivable volume during a rollover to protect the occupants. However, the strength requirements also provide a reasonable level of side impact protection while recognizing the fact that less rigid sides may reduce the number of rollovers and help prevent secondary impacts with rigid and flying objects inside the car. For example, at Miriam, Nevada, the side impact collision that led to this recommendation, the energy of the collision was somewhat absorbed by the deformation of the car body and helped prevent the cars from overturning. If the sides were more rigid, absorbing less energy, the coaches may have overturned at high speeds and the number and severity of injuries would likely have multiplied. If the coaches had overturned at high speeds at Miriam, they would have sustained severe damage to the car and unrestrained bodies would have suffered many secondary impacts before the car carne to rest, which would likely have resulted in a greater number of severe injuries. The Durbin and Greenbrier accident near Durbin, West Virginia, is an example of the large number of injuries that typically result when coaches are overturned during a collision, although at the low train speeds involved in that incident, the severity of injuries was limited. This is why preventing cars from overturning is an essential goal of side impact safety. If the coaches had stayed in an upright position, the number of injuries would have been lower. Therefore, FRA continues to believe that any side impact safety requirements should balance the desire to prevent cars from overturning and maintain a survivable volume.

From: NTSB
Date: 7/29/2013
Response: The FRA needs to complete action to address Safety Recommendation R-12-39 before it can address this recommendation. In the meantime, Safety Recommendation R 12-40 is classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: FRA
Date: 5/1/2013
Response: -From Joseph C. Szabo, Administrator: Thank you for your January 28, 2013, letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) concerning the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Safety Recommendations R-12-39 through R-12-43. These five recommendations came as a result of the report on the Miriam, Nevada, highway-railroad grade crossing collision on June 24, 2011, in which a Peterbilt truck-tractor pulling two empty side-dump trailers and traveling north on US Highway 95 struck an Amtrak passenger train. The collision destroyed the truck-tractor and two passenger railcars. Four train passengers, the train conductor, and the truck driver were killed. The enclosure outlines FRA's response to each recommendation and the safety systems and regulations in place to address them. Therefore, FRA respectfully requests that NTSB classify Safety Recommendations R-12-39 through R-12-41 as "Closed-Acceptable Alternate Action" and R-12-42 & -43 as "Open-Acceptable Response." I appreciate your interest in this important matter. We look forward to working with you. The risk of a heavy highway vehicle striking a train is documented, and served as a basis for the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) issuance of Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 238.217, Side Structure, as part of its original Passenger Equipment Safety Standards regulations (see 64 Fed. Reg. 25540 (May 12, 1999)). Since then, equipment compliant with FRA's side structure regulation has proved to perform well in different collisions. For example, in a highway-rail grade-crossing accident where a train collides with a highway vehicle fouling the grade-crossing, the collision may cause the highway vehicle to rotate sharply and strike the side of the train. Such an accident occurred on October 23,2006, in Franklin, Massachusetts, when a Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad train travelling at around 30 mph collided with a tractor trailer hauling earth-moving equipment. In the Franklin accident, the sides of the multi-level rail cars were damaged and the lead cab car derailed, but the occupant compartment was not penetrated. Another such accident occurred on August 24, 2012, in Camarillo, California, when a Southern California Regional Rail Authority train travelling at around 55 mph collided with a loaded tractor trailer. In the Camarillo accident, some local penetration occurred into the multi-level rail cars, which resulted in several seats being destroyed. Yet, no severe injuries or fatalities occurred in either accident. The circumstances of the June 24, 2011, accident in Miriam, Nevada, were more extreme. There, a tractor pulling two empty side-dump trailers travelling at around 60 mph struck the side of a National Railroad Passenger Corporation train, which itself was travelling at over 70 mph. The tractor embedded itself into the side of a multi-level crew dormitory car, causing a fire, and the accident resulted in the deaths of four passengers and a crewmember, along with the truck driver. Significantly more energy was absorbed by the rail car structure in the Miriam accident than in either the Franklin or Camarillo accidents. FRA is currently updating passenger equipment crashworthiness and other performance regulations with the assistance of the Engineering Task Force (ETF) of the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee's Passenger Safety Working Group (PSWG). The ETF includes representatives from all of the agency's major stakeholders, including railroads, rail labor organizations, and rail suppliers. The ETF is developing recommendations for crashworthiness requirements that rely on computer simulations and destructive component tests, as well as nondestructive car body tests. Traditional passenger rail equipment crashworthiness requirements rely on manual calculations and non-destructive car body tests. This update is expected to result in new regulations that are at least as safe as the current regulations, will be less expensive to implement, and have two applications: trains running up to 125 mph in a shared right-of-way (Tier I), and over 125 mph up to 220 mph (new Tier III) in an exclusive right-of-way. In this regard, the ETF has supported applying FRA's current side structure requirements to both tiers of operations. This regulatory effort is intended to promote the safe use of proven passenger trainset designs that are compatible with engineering practices outside of North America, and has already been used by FRA to approve the operation of Tier I multiple-unit trains by the Denton County Transportation Authority in Denton County, Texas. The Tier III standards are intended to serve as the basis for approval of passenger trainsets for new high-speed operations, such as the California High-Speed Train Project. In both applications, the standards will help to facilitate the expansion of rail passenger service in the United States, which will also be subject to new regulations for system safety. The PSWG's General Passenger Safety Task Force has developed recommendations for passenger railroads to enhance the overall safety of their operations using System Safety Program Plans to identify and then mitigate the hazards that each railroad faces. These recommendations led to FRA's issuance of a System Safety Program proposed rule (see 77 FR 55371 (Sept. 7,2012)). This systems approach to safety, which encompasses accident prevention, damage reduction, and effective response, can be expected to provide significant safety benefits to the traveling public and train crewmembers in a range of potential scenarios. FRA is also considering conducting new research to determine the types and frequency of side impacts into passenger rail equipment. This research would focus on accidents that have occurred in the last ten years and investigate alternatives to the current side structure requirements. The current side structure regulation for Tier I passenger equipment is essentially stiffness based. Potentially, side structure requirements that are based on performance under prescribed impact conditions may be as equally or more effective in preserving occupied volume in the likely range of accident conditions, while being less expensive for the industry to implement. FRA therefore requests that these actions be considered an acceptable response to the recommendations.