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Safety agency releases report on fatal 2017 train crossing crash

We in the Biloxi area remember the tragic crash in March of last year between a CSX train and a motorcoach. Four passengers in the chartered motorcoach died and more than three dozen more were injured when the train hit the bus, which had become stuck at a crossing.

Now the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found that both CSX and the city of Biloxi are at fault for failing "to mitigate known safety hazards" that led to the crash.

The ECHO Transportation motorcoach became stuck in a "high profile" grade crossing shortly before the crash. According to the NTSB, the driver was trying to get it loose when the train came down the tracks towards it. Although the engineer used the emergency braking system, the train was traveling at 19 miles per hour when it struck the motorcoach.

According to NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, "This tragedy was preceded by numerous unheeded warnings in the three years leading up to it." He noted that the warnings "came in the form of known groundings of other vehicles at the very same grade crossing where the fatal crash occurred."

According to the NTSB findings, the grade crossing where the crash occurred "had an unusually high vertical profile." That put vehicles with low ground clearance, such as buses and trucks at higher risk of getting "grounded" or stuck on the railroad tracks. Further, maintenance work that had been done at the crossing made its vertical profile even higher - - increasing the risk of grounding.

The NTSB says there were nearly two dozen instances of vehicles becoming grounded at this crossing in the three years prior to the March 2017 crash.

The federal safety agency noted that both the city and the railroad were aware of the dangers, but neither took action to lessen them. The NTSB report included a number of recommendations to help prevent similar situations from occurring again at these high-profile grade crossings.

Train versus vehicle crashes can have catastrophic consequences for those in the vehicle, no matter how large it is. Of course, those aboard the train can be at risk as well, particularly if it goes off the track.

Investigations into these crashes take time, and numerous entities and individuals may bear some responsibility. Victims and surviving loved ones should seek experienced legal guidance to help protect their right to seek the compensation they need and deserve.

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