Followup: A trucker looks at the Nevada Amtrak-truck crash

Recently the RailPAC website published four “theories” of how the July accident between a truck and Amtrak’s California Zephyr in the Nevada desert east of Reno might have happened (posted July 15, 2011). We asked Jason Brown, a commercial trucker, for his opinion on the events surrounding that crash.

Commentary by Jason Brown for

Well, where to start? For me at least, I grew up being the son of a railroader and I was always very proud of that. Somehow or someway I learned early on, don’t mess with a train. When I was in High School I lost three friends (all siblings of each other) to a car/train collision. So I think these things factored in to my view and respect of the train. My dad thinks, “The driver either made a very bad judgment call or was kind of deceived by the optical illusion effect of looking at the headlight straight making it difficult to estimate the trains distance or speed. In any event everybody on the highway needs to know the train has the right of way, in most cases the train cannot stop on a dime and the train always wins in a crossing accident.”

I have been driving a commercial truck now for three and a half years and I am amazed at how much stupid stuff I have seen drivers do. Working mainly in steel hauling operations, I am around/over many crossings many times a day. Some locations will have 20-30 crossings just in one facility. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen drivers pull in front of a train that’s moving down the line. These guys are dumb enough to park across multiple tracks in some cases. Or they will park right next to tracks thinking a rail car is only as wide as the rails. I just don’t understand the stupidity it takes to be ignorant enough to think you can beat the train, or that you have the right of way on live tracks.

I have read a few articles related to this incident, and in my opinion this guy in Nevada was doing one of two things: Showing off to his buddies behind him; mash the gas and haul butt; he may also have been keying up his CB jawboning to the guys behind him. Before he knew it he had a large Zephyr heading right at him.

The other scenario may be like this. These guys are all rolling along, nice open highway, no real hard turns or major intersections so they are moving along. They have done this trip a hundred times and got complacent. You tend to get highway hypnosis (White-line Fever) rather easily, especially if you are on a route you have traveled numerous times. I have had it happen to me many times; there are times I don’t even remember the last 30 miles I just covered. He may have just zoned out at the wrong time and then suddenly realized, Heck, there’s a moving train in front of me.

I was trained in railhead operations while in the military in order to prepare equipment for rail movement nationwide, I have attended classes on truck/train safety while being a driver. It honestly seems like it should be common sense…DON’T MESS WITH A TRAIN!

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