NTSB: Train given signals to slow, stop before hitting northbound train

Published: Aug. 19, 2014 at 3:50 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2014 at 10:31 AM CDT
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HOXIE, AR (KAIT) - For the second night in a row, NTSB officials addressed the media on the latest information regarding two trains that collided in Hoxie, killing two Union Pacific crew members and injuring two others.

NTSB Investigator Mike Hiller explained that the tracks in the area consist of two main tracks that converge into one main track.

[NTSB initiates crash investigation, names of victims released]

"The southbound train was operating on the double main track and the operation plan was to stop this train at a control point and wait for the northbound train to the diverge on the unoccupied double track," Hiller said. "We know this did not happen and a collision occurred right at the control point."

Hiller said the NTSB is still in the process of gathering evidence from the signal system to determine why the train headed toward Little Rock did not stop. Hiller said investigations Monday show the crew was given signals for "advanced approach."

"This signals the train crew to slow their train and be ready to stop at the next signal."

Hiller said the northbound train was given signals for a "diverging route."

"This means the northbound train would leave the single track and switch to the unoccupied track on the double main," Hiller said during Monday's press conference.

Investigators did not say who was at fault for the collision.

The National Transportation Safety Board was also able to shed light on what the trains were carrying.

The train headed North from Little Rock to St. Louis was hauling 92 cars. Hiller explained that 18 were tank cars. While seven were empty, 11 of those were carrying hazardous material. None of those cars were damaged in the accident, according to Investigator Hiller.

The southbound train, headed toward Little Rock, was hauling 86 cars. Twenty of those were also hauling hazardous materials.

"Again, none of these cars were damaged with the exception of the one alcohols car," Hiller said.

Neither of the trains were carrying petroleum crude oil.

Hiller said investigators are now in the process of collecting documents and taking measurements in the accident area.

Mechanical teams for the NTSB are completing brake inspections on the equipment that did not derail. Information will also be gathered on the maintenance of the equipment involved in the accident and their inspection records.

Hiller said the operations and human performance teams for NTSB will be conducting interviews with Union Pacific employees and local first responders over the next few days.

"The team has also requested medical documents, training records for both train crews involved in this accident," Hiller said. "We will attempt to interview the surviving train crew when they are medically able to talk to us."

Jeff DeGraff with Union Pacific told Region 8 News that the men injured in the wreck, engineer Michael Zompakos of Maumelle and conductor Aaron Jeffery of Conway, were still being treated for their injuries.

DeGraff said while those men sustained serious injuries, they are not considered to be life-threatening injuries.

At the press conference, Hiller said that while good progress was made into the investigative process on Monday, there is still a long way to go before they are able to determine the probable cause of the collision.

"We will not be determining the probable cause of the accident while we're here on scene. On scene, we gather facts and evidence. Once back in Washington, D.C., we further analyze this evidence and develop our conclusions and probable cause," Hiller said. "This generally takes from six months to one year."

The NTSB will hold additional briefings as they have further progress to report.

Union Pacific told Region 8 News that crews will be out 24-hours a day until the site is cleaned up and anticipate the site to be clear and U.S. 67S to reopen within the next two to three days.

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