A police investigation into a crash between a tractor trailer and an Amtrak passenger train in Maine says the truck driver was distracted by a cell phone call right before the collision. The crash killed the truck driver and caused $3 million worth of damages to the train.
The North Berwick Police Department investigation says truck driver Peter Barnum had just ended a call with his supervisor when he realized he was heading toward a closed railroad crossing gate at 50 mph, 20 mph over the posted limit.
Barnum slammed on his brakes, but the inertia of the 95,000 truck hauling trash caused it to skid onto the tracks and into the path of an Amtrak Downeaster.
The gates closed 21 seconds before the train arrived, enough time for a driver to stop, according to police.
A video taken from the engine of the train shows the gates down at the crossing. The truck appears in the video, its tires smoking as the driver tries to stop. It also shows the signals flashing at the crossing.
After impact, the train’s windshield is instantly covered with diesel fuel that burst into flames.
A motorist who had been following the truck said it had crossed the center line and also drifted into the breakdown lane three or more times right before the crash.
Skid marks showed Barnum slammed on his brakes as he passed a 30 mph speed limit sign, 239 feet from the tracks.
Amtrak has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against truck owner Triumvirate Environmental to recoup more than $3 million worth of damage to its engine and passenger cars.
There were 112 passengers on the train that day. They escaped with just minor injuries.
The train’s engineer saw the truck sliding toward the railroad crossing and put the train in emergency mode, which applied the brakes, but it was too late to stop. The engineer was treated for smoke inhalation.
Cell phone records show Barnum made a five-minute call from his phone at 11:00 a.m. the day of the crash, which was reported at 11:05.
Police can’t say whether Barnum had a hands-free phone. Triumvirate had a policy banning hand-held cell phone use by its drivers.
Barnum’s supervisor insists the call ended before the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that all use of cell phones by commercial drivers be prohibited. Click here for another recent investigation into a train crash that involved a worker distracted by his cell phone.