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Truck driver fatigue cited in California crash

  • FILE – In this Feb. 24, 2015 file photo, a worker walks along the tracks near the wreck of a Metrolink passenger train derailed in Oxnard, California. Federal investigators have determined that the crash that killed a Metrolink train engineer was probably due to acute fatigue and lack of familiarity with the area by the driver of a utility truck on the tracks, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s final report released Monday, Dec. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

    (Associated Press)

  • FILE – In this Feb. 24, 2015 file photo, a worker stands next to a railroad crossing sign and the wreckage of a truck that was hit by a Metrolink passenger train, causing it to derail in Oxnard, California. Federal investigators have determined that the crash that killed a Metrolink train engineer was probably due to acute fatigue and lack of familiarity with the area by the driver of a utility truck on the tracks, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s final report released Monday, Dec. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

    (Associated Press)

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LOS ANGELES – Acute fatigue and lack of familiarity with the area is likely the cause of the driver of a work truck to turn onto train tracks where the vehicle and trailer were struck by a Southern California train, killing the engineer and injuring dozens more last year, federal researchers said Monday.

The truck driver was on duty for almost 24 hours, including almost 17 hours of travel from Somerton, Arizona, to a workplace in Oxnard, California, according to the National Transportation Safety Board in the final report on the accident.

The 5:44 a.m. crash on Feb. 24, 2015, 32 injured Metrolink passengers and train crew members.

Earlier this year, Ventura County prosecutors filed a felony charges of vehicle homicide against the truck driver, Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez, a farm equipment repairman from Yuma, Arizona.

His lawyer has said that Sanchez-Ramirez repeated attempts to get the vehicle from the rails, then ran for his life as the train approached, out of fear that the fuel he used to power equipment can cause an explosion.

The truck driver had been on duty in Somerton on Feb. 23, 5:51 pm and began his trip to Oxnard to 1 hour, with the help of written instructions and a mobile phone navigation application for what was estimated to be six hour, 350 km trip, the NTSB said.

The Radiator damage, which requires the obtaining of a replacement truck caused a 4½-hour delay in the Jacumba, California, and another delay occurred when the truck was sideswiped by another vehicle in Los Angeles around 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 24.

The accident occurred 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles in an area where commercial and residential developments abruptly give way to the agricultural fields.

Sanchez-Ramirez was heading south on a lane, intending to turn at the next intersection. But he mistakenly made a right turn, the numbers of 57 metres north of the cross-street. The railroad crossing was marked with signals and gates, even though they were not activated, because the train is not approaching.

The NTSB report said that at the time of the navigation application is not the information on the track crossing. If it had, the driver there are less chances of interpreting the visual cues and accidentally back on the rails when approaching the intersection, the report said.

The report said that several companies have agreed to the recording of such data from the Federal Railroad Administration in mapping and navigation applications, but the deadlines for doing so are uncertain.

The Federal Railroad Administration at the height of the NTSB last June that it was reviewing the information on intersections for the accuracy and expected to be ready for the integration by the end of the year, the report noted.

The truck travelled about 80 metres below the tracks before it was pasted. The NTSB report said that the driver got out, tried to get the truck off the road and tried to call 911 but failed because he was in a panic. The truck was left with the headlights and hazard lights on and a door open.

Analysis of the GPS-data of the director of the mobile phone, it is revealed that approximately 12 minutes elapsed between the time that the truck got stuck and the train hit it, according to the report.

The train, manned by an engineer, student engineer, and conductor, was carrying 51 passengers on an early weekday run from the east to Los Angeles. The student engineer at the controls saw the obstruction about a quarter of a mile of the intersection and the crash 8 seconds after he began an emergency stop.

The NTSB said a test showed that the truck was visible from a distance of more than a half-mile, but the headlights of an approaching highway traffic coincided with the truck’s lighting. This “mask” might have made it difficult for the student engineer to understand the danger, the report said.

The cabin of the car — a passenger transport with the controls on the front and three-car coach derailed while the locomotive at the rear, remained on the tracks.

The principal engineer, Glenn Steele, 62, was severely injured and died a week later. He had the longest record of service engineer for Metrolink, Southern California regional rail line.

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