BILOXI, Miss. (KXAN) — The driver of a coach bus that collided with a train in Biloxi, Mississippi almost a month ago tested negative for alcohol and other drugs. The train crew, which were not required to do so, were not tested.
In preliminary findings released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Monday, the agency says the bus tour operator changed the planned route on Interstate 10 to a more scenic route along the coast.
The NTSB said the scenic route has been used in previous bus trips. The bus and train collision happened as the bus was traveling northbound on Main Street in Biloxi on March 7, claiming the lives of four Texans, including a woman from Bastrop and a husband and wife from Lockhart.
In addition to a railroad crossing sign, warning lights and a gate, the crossing had a yellow low ground clearance sign warning of the “high vertical profile” — or humped — crossing.
The bus frame became lodged on the tracks while trying to cross at around 2:12 p.m. that Tuesday. The driver tried to free the bus by moving it backward and forward, the NTSB says. The CSX freight train, heading eastbound, with three locomotives and 52 cars — 27 of them loaded — was approaching the crossing at 26 miles per hour.
The driver, seeing the train, opened the entry door and told the passengers to evacuate. After sounding the train horn and putting the train into emergency braking 510 feet west of the crossing, the train decelerated to about 19 miles per hour. The train hit the left side of the bus, pushing it about 203 feet before coming to a stop, the NTSB said.
Of the 50 people on board the bus, 39 passengers had serious to minor injuries and six passengers were uninjured. The bus driver had serious injuries, while the train engineer was unharmed.
Most of the passengers on the bus were members of the Bastrop Senior Center. The Echo Transportation-owned bus, which left from Bastrop on March 5, was taking the passengers on a casino trip from Bay St. Louis to Biloxi when the crash happened.
NTSB investigators say they are continuing to investigate issues related to the railroad crossing signage and maintenance, as well as the crashworthiness of the bus. Investigators are also following up with interviews of the survivors and those who witnessed the crash, including gathering information on the experience of the bus driver and train crew, their hours of service and trip routing.
The city of Biloxi announced on March 22 that they have approved a plan to close six railroad crossings in the city. Biloxi Mayor Andrew Gilich said 29 rail crossings is “too many crossings for Biloxi.”
Wrongful death and negligence lawsuits have been filed against the bus company, tour operator and train company. A lawsuit claims more than 30 minutes passed before the injured passengers were taken off the bus.