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NTSB rules railroad and Biloxi at fault for 2017 train crash

The National Transportation Safety Board has made a decision on who holds the blame for a train crash that happened in March 2017 at the Main Street crossing in Biloxi. The crash killed four people and the board found that the railroad and the City of Biloxi are at fault.

The crash happened on March 7, 2017, when a chartered ECHO Transportation motorcoach carrying 49 senior citizens to a casino got stuck on a “high profile” grade crossing in Biloxi, when seconds later, as the motorcoach driver attempted to free the vehicle from the railroad tracks, a CSX freight train approached. Although the engineer saw the stranded vehicle and applied emergency braking, the train stuck the motorcoach at 19 mph. Four of the 49 motorcoach passengers were killed in the crash; the driver and 37 passengers were injured. No one on the CSX train was injured.

“This tragedy was preceded by numerous unheeded warnings in the three years leading up to it,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt.  “They came in the form of known groundings of other vehicles at the very same grade crossing where the fatal crash occurred. Warnings call for action.”

In the NTSB’s report, the agency called for criteria to determine when an existing high-profile grade crossing should be modified or closed, and for better communication between all the entities involved in the maintenance and safety of grade crossings.

“It will take concerted, coordinated action to proactively address the safety challenge posed by high-profile grade crossings,” said Sumwalt. “And today’s findings and recommendations will provide regulators, policy makers and planners with the tools to do just that.”

A total of 11 new safety recommendations were made to the following organizations: the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the City of Biloxi, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association, the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association and all Class 1 railroads.

“We haven’t been waiting for the findings of the NTSB to be reactive on railroad crossing safety,” said Biloxi’s Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich. “We’ve been proactive. Before the tragic accident last year, we had placed warning signs identifying dangerous crossings at steep grades. We’ve been negotiating for three years with CSX to reduce the amount of railroad crossings in east Biloxi. We’ve banned large buses and trucks from some crossings.”

The NTSB said that inadequate guidance from the Federal Highway Administration on how to mitigate risks associated with high vertical profile grade crossings contributed to the crash. The NTSB recommended that high-profile grade crossings have clearer, less ambiguous signage so that drivers of all types of vehicles can better determine if their vehicle could safely traverse the crossing.

“The city has taken the lead with the Mississippi Department of Transportation on the reconfiguration of the Main Street crossing,” Gilich said. “We will be requesting financial support from CSX in making this and other crossings safer. This is a complex oversight issue involving CSX’s control of the tracks and Mississippi Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction. We are limited in what we can do, but we will continue to work with both of them to improve safety at all rail crossings in Biloxi.”

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