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Charter Bus Was Stuck On Tracks When Freight Train Hit It, Witnesses In Biloxi Say

Emergency crews work on the scene where a train hit a charter bus in Biloxi, Miss., Tuesday. The National Transportation Safety Board says the freight train was traveling about 19 mph at the time of the crash.
Gerald Herbert

Witnesses to Wednesday's deadly crash involving a freight train and a bus say that the charter bus appeared to be trapped on the tracks just ahead of the crash that killed at least four people and injured dozens more in Biloxi, Miss. Transportation agencies say the crossing is a known problem.

"Since 1976 there have been 16 vehicle-train collisions at this grade crossing prior to Tuesday's accident," the National Transportation Safety Board says.

The train was traveling at around 19 mph when it struck the bus and pushed the crowded vehicle some 200 feet down the tracks, the NTSB says. The train's engineer had spotted the bus and begun an emergency stop when his three engines and 52 cars were still 500 feet from the crossing.

The NTSB and other agencies are looking into why the bus was on the tracks — and how to prevent the situation from repeating. Tuesday night, the Federal Railroad Administration said three of its inspectors and a state inspector were en route to the site where the train ran into the middle of a charter bus' side.

From Mississippi Public Broadcasting, Evelina Burnett reports for NPR's Newscast unit:

"The charter bus was carrying about 50 people to a casino just north of the railroad tracks in Biloxi when it appears to have gotten stuck. Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney says it took just a few minutes for emergency responders to arrive.

" 'Upon our arrival, about two minutes later, we found there were many, many victim inside the bus, injured,' Boney said.

"Officials said it's not clear yet if the bus had some kind of mechanical trouble, but this intersection has a steep grade that has led to issues in the past. Just in January, a delivery truck was hit by a train at the crossing. There were no serious injuries reported in that crash, but according to the Federal Railroad Administration, there have been fatal accidents at this intersection at least twice before."

Witness Craig Robinson tells local newspaper the Sun Herald that he noticed that "the bus... was stuck, so I took off running."

Robinson says he was running to tell people to get off the bus, but by the time he got there, "the train already had hit it, and drug it to where it stands now."

Another witness tells the newspaper that some passengers were trying to get off the bus when it was struck — and that at least one person was then trapped beneath the bus.

When a crowd that had gathered near the crash site Tuesday saw a group of survivors being led away by emergency crews, they broke into applause and cheers.

According to the NTSB, grade crossings like the one in Biloxi were the scene of more than 2,000 accidents across the U.S. last year. Those incidents resulted in 265 deaths.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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