MIDLAND, Texas – A parade float that collided with a freight train, killing four military veterans, had crossed onto railroad tracks even though warning signals were going off, investigators said Saturday.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said the warning bells and signals at the West Texas track were activated 20 seconds before the accident. The second float didn’t go onto the track until several seconds later, just after the guardrail began lowering.
Four veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were killed Thursday when the train slammed into the parade float in Midland. Sixteen people were injured.
Nine seconds before the crash, the train sounded its horn, a blaring that lasted four seconds, according to NTSB member Mark Rosekind. The guardrail hit the truck, and then the engineer pulled the emergency brake, trying to bring the train to a screeching halt.
Once the crossing becomes active, people should stop, lead investigator Robert Accetta with the NTSB said.
People on the first float and dozens of others who had come out to greet the veterans shrieked and watched in shock, as some aboard the truck tried to jump off, witnesses said. The veterans military instincts kicked in as they treated the wounded.
Residents of a town whose history and even name are inextricably linked to the railroads that run through were holding a candlelight vigil Saturday evening.
The timeline was pieced together by combining information from a video camera mounted on the front of the train, another one that was on a sheriff’s car and a data recorder that acts like an airplane’s black box, activating when the train blared the horn, Rosekind said.
The federal agency has also interviewed the engineer and conductor, and established the train’s air brakes were working, Rosekind said. No mechanical problems were found with the cars.