Witnesses told investigators that a garbage truck struck by a train carrying Republican congressmen through rural Virginia entered the railroad crossing after the safety gates had come down, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report released Wednesday.
The report on the Jan. 31 crash said the probable cause of the accident has not yet been determined. But it offered some new details about the crash, which killed a trash collector and injured several other people.
The chartered Amtrak train was carrying dozens of Republican lawmakers to an annual retreat in West Virginia.
The NTSB report said data taken from a track image camera on the train showed that as the highway-railroad grade crossing came into view, the gates were down and the garbage truck was on the crossing.
Preliminary information from the train’s onboard recorder indicates that the train was traveling about 61 mph (98 kph) when the engineer applied emergency braking. The train struck the left rear of the truck, causing the truck to rotate counterclockwise and then collide with a railroad signal bungalow next to the tracks.
The two trash collectors were ejected from the truck. One of them, 28-year-old Christopher Foley, was killed, while the other remains hospitalized. The truck’s driver received minor injuries.
The front axle of the lead locomotive on the train derailed, but the locomotive remained upright. Three Amtrak crew members and three train passengers received minor injuries, including U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis of Minnesota, who was taken to a hospital to be checked for a concussion.
The truck’s driver has declined repeated requests to speak with The Associated Press about what happened.
Three people who live near the railroad crossing told the AP that the safety gates, which are designed to come down to warn drivers of approaching trains, were known to frequently malfunction, sometimes staying down for extended periods of time even when no trains were coming.
The NTSB report said investigators “continue to examine issues related to the highway-railroad grade crossing.”
The report said investigators are also coordinating additional passenger and witness interviews. A spokesman for the NTSB said that as of Wednesday, investigators had not yet interviewed the truck driver.
The Albemarle County Police Department had received reports about the safety gates malfunctioning dating back to 2010. Six people called police between 2010 and 2016 to report problems with the crossing gates, including complaints that they were staying down for an extended period of time, and that one gate was up while the other was down, according to a response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
CSX Corp. owns the stretch of track where the crash occurred but leases it to Buckingham Branch Railroad, which is responsible for maintaining it.
Carrie Brown, Buckingham’s human resources manager, declined to comment on the NTSB’s preliminary report or whether Buckingham was aware of the complaints about the safety gates before the crash.
“It’s still under investigation. … The NTSB will finish releasing the results and we’ll look at them,” she said.
Boyd McCauley, the founder of the trash company, Time Disposal, identified the truck driver as Dana Naylor Jr. He said Naylor, 30, is a longtime employee who was familiar with the railroad crossing, which is located at an intersection at the top of a hill where visibility is limited.
“Dana had been running that same route for seven years. He crossed that track once a week,” McCauley said.
Online court records show that Naylor has a history of motor vehicle infractions dating back to 2008, including driving an uninspected vehicle, failing to display license plates, having an improper exhaust system and failing to wear a seat belt. The infractions appear to be related to maintenance and inspection of his vehicles, not moving violations.
He was also convicted of possession of marijuana in 2011 and resisting arrest in 2009.
McCauley did not immediately return calls Wednesday seeking comment on Naylor’s driving record or the NTSB’s preliminary report.
In an earlier interview, McCauley said Naylor is devastated by the loss of Foley, who died despite life-saving efforts by several congressmen on the train who are also doctors.
“Survivor’s remorse,” McCauley said.