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Feds Probe Amtrak Accident

March 17, 1999

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) _ Federal investigators said today they are looking into whether the driver of a semitrailer drove around a crossing barrier in an attempt to beat an oncoming train, causing the nation’s deadliest railroad accident in three years.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board said the driver, John Stokes, was just one part of the investigation into the wreck of the City of New Orleans, and that the train engineer and the warning system were also being examined.

At least 11 people were killed and more than 100 injured in Monday night’s accident, federal officials said today, lowering the death toll from 13.

National Transportation Safety Board member John Goglia said the agency was frustrated with Amtrak’s delays in getting accurate information about passengers to investigators.

Goglia also said investigators were going to wait until interviews today with the driver and the engineer before reaching any conclusions on the cause of the crash.

Amtrak’s chairman, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, said Tuesday that Stokes was trying to dodge the crossing gates, thinking the oncoming train was a slow-moving freight train instead of a faster passenger train.

``The engineer said he saw the lights flashing, he saw the barriers down and then he saw the truck stop and try to get around it,″ Thompson said. ``There was no way to avoid it.″

Stokes has said the barriers did not go down until he was on the tracks.

Tire marks were found on the road, the timber of the crossing, and on the road shoulder in the dirt, said Bob Lauby, director of the NTSB’s office of railroad safety.

``The tire marks may belong to the truck, they may not,″ Lauby said today. ``Put all these marks together and we should be able to recreate exactly where the truck was and how it negotiated that crossing.″

Investigators also planned to recreate the driver’s approach to the crossing to see whether he could not see the train approaching, Goglia said today.

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