Accident ‘perfect storm of adverse circumstances’

The National Transportation Safety Board offered a dose of hard reality last week in its report on the probable cause of the train crash that killed four wounded veterans on Nov. 15, 2012, in Midland, Texas.

In short, the board said the driver was not at fault and Union Pacific Railroad was not responsible.

Instead, the NTSB has determined the probable cause for the crash was the failure of the city of Midland and the organization Show of Support to identify and mitigate the risks associated with conducting a parade across a railroad crossing. The crash claimed four lives.

While civil litigation prevents the city of Midland and Show of Support from talking about its roles in the operations of the parade, we honestly are not sure what else they could add to last week’s disappointing news.

• There was a parade conducted by the city of Midland and Show of Support without a person overseeing the parade’s logistics. According to the NTSB, the MPD official who oversaw previous Show of Support parades “took it upon himself to do so.” When the police lieutenant retired, “the new one dropped the ball on this,” according to comments from the NTSB board hearing. The board referenced that no official called the railroad company to inquire about having that train slow down that day or come through Midland at a different time. There also was no police officer at the crossing, according to the comments at the hearing.

• There was no permit or safety plan filed. According to the NTSB, a safety plan had not been filed going back at least four years. The Reporter-Telegram already reported the city failed to require Show of Support to file a parade permit during three of the previous four years, which the previous parade ordinance required. The previous parade ordinance also required the chief of police to sign that permit.

• There was the involvement of law enforcement, including the Midland Police Department, which led the driver to assume there couldn’t be any problems on that day, including the possibility of a train barreling through Midland during the afternoon when the parade was taking place. During the hearing it was reported the driver “was in a ‘safety bubble’ when driving because law enforcement was escorting him through intersections and traffic lights regardless of the lights’ colors.”

The NTSB referred to the accident being a result of a “perfect storm of adverse circumstances.” The city, in a communication with the Reporter-Telegram, believes that is an accurate statement. However, the NTSB followed its perfect storm comment by noting if “23” trains pass through every day, then it was almost guaranteed “you will see a train in the course of the parade.”

During the hearing it was reported that:

“The reason we are citing the community and organizers in the probable cause is because we want other communities to understand what they can do to mitigate risk in the future.”

In other words, don’t do what the city of Midland, Show of Support and our community allowed to happen on Nov. 15, 2012.

— Midland (Texas) Reporter-Telegram

 

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