Four people were killed and 35 injured when a tour bus traveling to a Mississippi casino became trapped on the train tracks in Biloxi and was hit by an oncoming train. The incident has prompted new inquiries into that specific train crossing, which has seen similar incidents in the past, and has led to lawsuits against the tour bus company, train company and bus driver. It also highlights some of the dangers that people are exposed to when train tracks and road crossings meet.
Tour Bus Stopped on Tracks Before Being Hit by CSX Train
The Biloxi train and bus collision occurred at about 2:15 p.m. on March 7, 2017, as a tour bus operated by Dallas-based Echo Transportation made its way from Bay St. Louis to Boomtown Casino.
The tour bus was traversing the Main Street crossing when it got stuck on the tracks for unknown reasons. Witnesses say that the driver quickly called for passengers to get off the bus, but many were still on board when an oncoming CSX freight train slammed into the immobile bus. The train pushed the bus about approximately 300 feet down the tracks.
One witness said that the bus had been stopped on the tracks for five minutes, helpless as passengers eventually saw the CSX train bearing down on them.
Of the 48 passengers on board the Echo Transportation bus, three were killed in the accident and a fourth died later from their injuries. An additional 35 passengers were taken to hospital for treatment.
Factors in the Biloxi Train Crash
Investigations by local police and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are underway, but officials have yet to confirm a reason for the Mississippi tour bus-train crash or for why the tour bus was stuck on the tracks. Details have been revealed during the investigations, however, that may give an idea of what led to the accident.
Steep Grade of Crossing
The Main Street train crossing, where the Biloxi train crash took place, is known to have a hump that can cause larger vehicles to bottom out, and authorities are investigating the role this may have played in the fatal crash. An NTSB highway engineer has already surveyed the grade of the road and the geometry of the hump, and will likely release information on this component in their preliminary report.
Only a few months prior, on January 5, 2017, a Pepsi delivery truck was stuck in the same spot at the Main Street crossing and was also hit by a CSX train, though there were no fatalities in the incident. In March of 2016, in an incident that could have been disastrously similar, a casino tour bus was also trapped at the Main Street crossing, but it was moved before the next train passing. Two years before that, in August of 2014, a tractor-trailer was hit by a train after bottoming out at the Main Street crossing.
Those are three incidents out of 17 that have been taken place between trains and vehicles at the Main Street crossing since 1976, and have led to accusations that the steep grade of the crossing is dangerous. Luckily, not all incidents have been fatal, but each is a reminder that train accidents can have devastating consequences.
Driver Was on Wrong Route
In a fateful twist, it’s been discovered that the Echo Transportation tour bus was not even supposed to cross the train tracks at Main Street, and should instead have been on Caillavet Street.
The revelation was made by NTSB member Robert Sumwalt who said, in a news conference, that the tour bus was one of three involved in the senior’s casino bus tour, which was organized by Diamond Tours out of Florida. All three buses had left Bay St. Louis with a route provided by Diamond Tours, but while the other two buses followed the suggested route, the Echo Transportation bus seems to have chosen instead to use a GPS designed for commercial vehicles.
There has been no speculation as to what led the bus driver, 60-year-old Louis Ambrose Jr., to not use the route provided by Diamond Tours.
Warning Sign Ignored
A warning sign before the Main Street crossing alerts drivers to the steep grade and potential for a larger vehicle to bottom out. In the sign, a tractor-trailed is pictured on the tracks and text warns of low clearance.
Some allege that the sign is evidence that CSX was aware of the potential safety issues of the crossing, but chose to erect the sign instead of taking action to correct the problem. The driver is also accused of being negligent by either not seeing the sign or by ignoring it.
Since the train accident, the city of Biloxi has put up additional signs at the Main Street crossing, and at other crossings around the city that have low clearance. They’ve asked CSX and the state to work on the humps leading to the railroad crossings, but, for their part, CSX says it is the responsibility of the city to change the road grade.
Three Lawsuits Filed After Biloxi Bus Crash
Already three lawsuits have been filed in Dallas County on behalf of the victims of the Biloxi bus and train collision, and more are expected.
In the first, the estate of Peggy Hoffman alleges that CSX allowed “ultra hazardous” conditions at the crossing, and that Ambrose did not follow traffic signs. That lawsuit has been filed against CSX, Echo Transportation and Ambrose. In the second lawsuit, filed on behalf of the surviving family of Peggy Hoffman’s husband, Ken Hoffman, similar accusations are made against CSX and Echo Transportation.
So far two survivors of the tour bus-train crash have filed a lawsuit. Darwyn and Marie Hanna are seeking damages for the injuries they sustained in the crash, which, according to the lawsuit, are likely to leave them to “endure physical pain, suffering, and mental anguish for…the rest of their life.” As with the two lawsuits filed regarding the Hoffman’s, the Hanna lawsuit seeks at least $1 million in damages.
According to her husband, Cliff Wright, another crash victim, Carol Wright, may soon seek legal action. Wright sustained several cracked ribs in the accident and was one of the 35 people hospitalized for their injuries.
NTSB Preliminary Report on Mississippi Train Accident
The NTSB has finished their on-site investigation in Biloxi and is now working to compile their preliminary report, which, on March 18, 2017, they promised to produce within two to three weeks. They are still seeking the public’s help in the investigation, and ask witnesses and those with photos, videos or other relevant information to contact the investigator-in-charge, Pete Kotowski, at email@example.com.
Interviews with train crew members and Ambrose have already taken place, but the NTSB will also travel to Texas to meet with Echo Transportation and to Florida to interview Diamond Tours.
Initial investigation by the Biloxi Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division indicates criminal activity was not a factor in the Biloxi train crash, and that Ambrose was not using drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident.