The eyes of Texas were flooded with tears yesterday evening as news broke that a Union Pacific train barreled through a trailer/float loaded with war veterans and their families in Midland, Texas. News report can be found at Midland Reporter-Telegram. Some post-crash photos can be found here. (Browser note -- the photos load better with IE than Firefox.)
The Union Pacific spokesperson was reported as saying the crossing gate and lights were working, although it seems unlikely a test was performed in the few hours between the time of the crash and the publication of that statement. But just because it's a self serving statement doesn't make it false.
So the question on everyone's mind one day later is still, "How could this have happened?" Crash investigators are being very tight lipped so as not to tilt the question of liability too soon. All the rest of us can do is speculate, and it's hard not to suspect that in the excitement of the parade the truck driver might have forgotten section 2.12 from the Texas Commercial Driver Handbook:
2.12 RAILROAD CROSSINGS
Railroad crossings are always dangerous. Every such crossing must be approached with the expectation that a train is coming. ...
What a tragedy. The folks at Show of Support were simply trying to help wounded warriors, and this happens. What a tragedy.
Updated 11/28/12: Various reports identified Dale Andrew Hayden as the driver. And as for one possible explanation for the accident, see WSJ.com quoting the lawyer for Hayden's employer which owned the truck:
But Mr. Hayden assumed Midland police were controlling traffic at all intersections along the parade route, Mr. Fletcher said, citing his interview with Mr. Hayden and the driver of a second parade float.
But then from a later WSJ article:
AUSTIN—The railroad crossing in Midland, Texas, where four veterans died after being hit by a train this month was designed to give motorists at least 30 seconds of advance warning, according to a review of records filed with the Texas Department of Transportation.
A federal investigation has found that warning lights flashed and bells sounded for 20 seconds before a freight train struck a parade float carrying veterans and their families.
The plans date from an upgrade of the crossing that was completed in 1991.
Union Pacific Corp., the owner of the train, said the Texas transportation records are outdated and "do not reflect current conditions" at the Midland crossing. It added that federal investigators found that the parade float "proceeded onto the tracks eight seconds after the red flashing lights and bells activated" and that the crossing met federal requirements.
Lots and lots of finger pointing.