WASHINGTON — A Union Pacific Railroad freight train blew through a stop signal going 65 mph last June before striking another UP train near Goodwell, and the crew made no attempt to slow down until seconds before the head-on collision that killed three people, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator said Tuesday.
The investigation is incomplete, and no probable cause has been determined for the June 24 collision in Texas County. Records released by the board on Tuesday showed none of the four crew members — two on each train — had previous disciplinary actions at Union Pacific, which has mandatory suspensions for those who violate stop signals.
Records of the crews' cellphones show none were in use just before or at the time of the midmorning crash.
Meeting here Tuesday about the accident, the board focused on safety training and human error in general, questioning officials from Union Pacific, the Federal Railroad Administration and the union that represents locomotive engineers and trainmen.
Robert Lauby, a safety expert with the railroad administration, said “running a red signal is something that's absolutely never supposed to happen.”
Witnesses said human mistakes commonly resulted from being distracted — often by cellphones — fatigue, the effects of medication and from “task overload” on the job.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, a collision-avoidance system known as positive train control may have prevented the accident if it had been installed, though Lauby said that system is not infallible.
The Goodwell collision was caused by a train heading east that failed to slow down at two signals and to stop at a third; the crew didn't apply emergency braking until eight seconds before the collision.
NTSB investigator James Southworth said Tuesday that the trains collided at a combined speed of 79 miles per hour and that fuel from ruptured tanks ignited after the impact.
The NTSB found no mechanical problems with the trains or the signals. Damage to equipment and cargo is estimated at nearly $15 million.