WASHINGTON - Cheers of support from a flag-waving crowd watching a parade turned into shouts of horror when a freight train rammed into a float carrying veterans and their wives in Midland, Texas, last year. Four veterans were killed and 16 others were injured in the collision.
On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board will meet to consider the probable cause of the accident and to make safety recommendations.
A local charity had invited veterans who had been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan to Midland for a three-day weekend of hunting and shopping in appreciation of their service, including a parade timed to fall near Veterans Day in November. The parade has been an annual event in Midland, a transportation and commerce hub in the West Texas oilfields, for nine years.
Two floats with veterans and their spouses were en route to a banquet in their honor when the collision occurred. One float had just cleared the railroad crossing, and a second flatbed truck was edging crossing the tracks when it was struck by a Union Pacific train traveling at 62 mph in a 70 mph zone. Several veterans and their wives managed to jump to from the truck before the collision, including some that were injured.
Investigators said the railroad crossing warning system was activated the required 20 seconds before the accident, and the guardrail began to come down seven seconds after that.
But some Midland residents have said there isn't enough time between when the signal begins and the trains arrive. They say guardrails aren't completely down by the time a train comes by.
The train's engineer sounded the locomotive's horn and pulled the emergency brake seconds before the collision, but was unable to stop. The train's air brakes were working properly, investigators said.
The driver of the truck that was struck is also a veteran. He was not injured.