Forward-looking cameras aboard a locomotive involved in a head-on train collision 11 months ago in Millbury showed that signals along the tracks were working properly, according to a federal report that pins blame for the crash on the train crews.
The Federal Railroad Administration report - dated Jan. 6 but not released to The Blade until last week following a June 2 federal Freedom of Information Act request - confirms findings by Norfolk Southern Railway that the crew of an eastbound train missed a "caution" signal and was traveling too fast to stop in time for a red signal in Millbury. There, the eastbound train was supposed to wait for a westbound train that was using the same track east of the village.
The eastbound train came to a stop past a switch that the westbound was to have used to cross over from that track to a parallel track. Its crew, whose names were redacted from the report for "personal privacy" reasons, radioed the westbound train to advise its crew of the situation, but the westbound could not stop in time to avert the crash.
Two locomotives and five cars from the combined trains derailed in the low-speed crash. Both trains were pulling flatcars loaded with truck trailers and shipping containers. While some of the freight inside included hazardous materials, no dangerous cargo was released.
The westbound train's conductor suffered minor injuries when he jumped from his locomotive before the crash. Damage was calculated at $378,335.
According to the federal accident report, images from a camera aboard the eastbound train's locomotive clearly showed a signal at Walbridge Road displaying a yellow light over a red light - an indication to the train's crew of a need to slow down and be prepared to stop before the next signal.
But at the same time, an audio recording from the locomotive revealed that one of the two crewmen announced having seen a "Clear," or green, signal at that location, and the train proceeded at 45 mph until the Millbury signal, displaying three red lights, came into view.
The report paints a story of a veteran train crew that worked the same job on every assignment and did not expect to be stopped at Millbury. The engineer had 40 years' experience and the conductor had 39. Their usual train, identified by Norfolk Southern as No. 20E, carries parcels and consumer goods from Chicago to eastern Pennsylvania and usually gets priority over other trains.
"It appears they never or rarely get a stop signal at this location [Millbury]," Mark Pruden, an FRA safety inspector, wrote in the report. "Also from the interview with the conductor, it appears he makes himself busy with cleaning up the cab, putting ice in the cooler, and putting his food and the engineer's food in the cooler while the train is moving instead of paying attention to the signals."
The crewmen told investigators that while they announced the Walbridge Road signal as having been green, "neither one could say for sure" that he actually looked at the signal as the train passed it.
Both men were "dismissed" after the accident, according to the report. Rudy Husband, a Norfolk Southern spokesman, said they have since been reinstated to their jobs. Mr. Husband declined to comment otherwise on the report.
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