Kansas Investigation Report Singles Out Truck as Likely Cause of SW Chief Derailment

A Kansas newspaper recently reported that a truck driver failed to set the emergency brakes on a vehicle that then rolled downhill and knocked BNSF tracks out of alignment, which triggered the March 14 derailment of the Chicago-bound Southwest Chief.

The Wichita Eagle obtained the investigation records through a freedom of information request.

Amtrak Southwest Chief 2A Kansas State Highway Patrol investigator, Herb Bradley, found that a worker from Cimarron Crossing Feeders drove the truck to a feed mill and parked it on a downhill slope.

“I feel that the driver either failed to set the parking brake or did not completely apply the parking brake of the Kenworth (truck) before exiting the vehicle,” Bradley wrote.

The driver also left the truck’s transmission in neutral and it began rolling when he got out.

The truck broke through a fence, traveled across a pasture, through a second fence, down a ditch on U.S. 50, across the highway, and through another ditch before finally hitting the railroad tracks, displacing ties and rails in the process.

Bradley detailed his inspections of the truck in a written report that concluded that the truck’s brakes worked properly.

He observed the truck for four hours while parked on a downhill slope with the brakes activated and concluded that the truck did not roll downhill because of failed brakes.

In an inspection, Bradley did not find any mechanical problems that could have compromised the truck before, during or even after the accident.

The derailment of the Southwest Chief occurred several hours after the truck struck the track.

Twenty-eight of the 144 aboard were hurt and six of the train’s 10 cars derailed.

Tire marks at the scene of the derailment matched a 2004 Kenworth truck owned by Cimarron Crossing Feeders that was used to haul cattle feed. Investigators found cattle feed strewn along the tracks.

The derailment caused more than $1.4 million in damage.

Maynard Burl, feedlot manager for Cimarron Crossing Feeders, wrote in a voluntary witness statement that the driver of the truck said the parking brakes didn’t work.

In his statement, Burl said he got into the truck the day the truck rolled downhill and tested the parking brake twice to show the driver that they worked each time.

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