Authorities leading the investigation of the crash between a commercial truck and Amtrak’s Downeaster train said the truck driver was distracted, possibly by a cell phone, and blamed the collision on driver inattention.
The crash occurred in North Berwick, Maine, July 11 when driver Peter Barnum, 35, failed to stop at a railroad crossing and slammed into the train carrying 112 passengers and 4 Amtrak employees. Mr. Barnum was killed instantly. Several passengers and Amtrak crew received minor injuries in the fiery crash.
The North Berwick Police Department, which was considered the lead investigator in the case, issued a press release Monday concluding that the “cause of this crash is driver inattention / distraction by the possible use of a mobile communication device by Mr. Barnum.” The investigation remains open, however, for other agencies involved, including State Police, Amtrak, and the Federal Railroad Administration.
The press release also said that both the gates and signals were functioning properly at the intersection where the crash occurred. Police said that skid marks at the scene measuring 75 feet long indicate that Mr. Barnum tried to stop the truck, which was carrying 25 tons of trash to an incinerator facility, but it was too late. The truck slid around the lowered gates and crashed into the front of the train.
Amtrak has filed a lawsuit against Mr. Barnum’s employer, Triumvirate Enviro-Mental, in a Massachusetts federal court, seeking $3 million to cover the cost of the engine and passenger cars that were destroyed in the crash.
Damaged tracks have also disrupted the Downeaster route, which provides service between Boston and Portland, Maine. The train ordinarily travels 70 mph in the vicinity but must slow to about 30 mph.
The North Berwick Police Department’s conclusion comes at a time when National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is calling for a comprehensive ban on cell phone use for all commercial truck and bus drivers. The NTSB bases its proposal in part on a rash caused by a distracted commercial truck driver in Munfordville, Kentucky that killed 11 people last year.