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NTSB: Before Caltrain Crash, Worker Sent All-Clear To Dispatchers While Maintenance Vehicles Still On Track

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A Caltrain worker had notified dispatchers that the tracks were clear of maintenance workers minutes before a five-car commuter train traveling at 65 mph slammed into their vehicles in a fiery crash that injured 14 people, according to a preliminary investigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigators spent days examining the wreckage, surveillance video from the train's cameras and audio of calls into the Caltrain dispatch center.

While it will be months before the final results will be released, a preliminary report was released Wednesday.

The crash took place on March 10 at about 10:33 a.m. A southbound Caltrain crashed into three maintenance vehicles near Scott St. in San Bruno. Fuel from one of the vehicles sparked a fire that spread to one of the passenger cars.

Twelve passengers, one train crew member and a maintenance contractor were injured. Among them, seven taken to local hospitals, and seven were treated and released at the scene.

Investigators found that a roadway worker-in-charge received exclusive track occupancy authorization from the train dispatcher. The authorization allowed the maintenance vehicles to enter the main track area at 9:50 a.m. to load construction materials in a fenced location next to the main track.

Caltrain officials said the equipment involved in the collision was part of the system's ongoing electrification project.

About eight minutes after the vehicles entered the trackway, the NTSB said the roadway worker-in-charge contacted the train dispatcher and released the exclusive track occupancy while the maintenance vehicles were still on the tracks.

Caltrain 506 was traveling at 63 mph toward Millbrae station when the engineer saw the vehicles on the track and applied the emergency brake, the NTSB said. The brake slowed but did not stop the train before it barreled into the vehicles.

After the collision, the train crew evacuated passengers through the rail cars toward the rear of the train. Caltrain and its contractors estimated property damages to be almost $1.4 million.

The NTSB said its investigation of the crash was ongoing and will be focusing on railroad worker safety, training and oversight, and regulatory compliance.

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