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The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that BNSF Railway Company's use of after-arrival track warrant authority in non-signaled territory, and the Federal Railroad Administration's failure to prohibit the use of such authority, were contributing causes to an accident that took the life of a BLET member on May 10, 2004, near Gunter, Texas.

Also contributing to the accident was the train dispatcher's informal communications regarding planned train meeting locations.

The southbound train (BNSF 6789), was traveling about 37 mph and the northbound train (BNSF 6351) was traveling about 40 mph when the collision occurred. The collision resulted in the derailment of 5 locomotives and 28 cars. The engineer of the southbound was killed, while the southbound train conductor sustained serious injuries.

The investigation revealed that there was another northbound train (BNSF 2917) that originally had main track authority to the north siding switch at Dorchester. Northbound 2917 and southbound 6789 passed each other at Dorchester; the northbound train subsequently was authorized to continue north. Because southbound 6789 did not verbally confirm the train identification of northbound 2917 by radio, the crew most likely assumed that northbound 2917 was the single train that the dispatcher had told them they would meet at Dorchester.

After the trains passed, southbound 6789 was issued the track warrant authorizing it to proceed south from Dorchester after the arrival of northbound 6351.

The investigators found that at the time of the collision, northbound 6351 was proceeding at the allowed track speed with valid authority to travel north on the main track from milepost 678 to the south siding at Dorchester. The southbound 6789 train crew was required to note on their track warrant form the engine number, the time, and the location when they met northbound 6351. Consequently, the Safety Board concluded that the southbound 6789 train crewmembers' failure to verify the engine number listed on their track warrant against the engine number of the train in the siding, combined with the expectation that they would proceed south after meeting a single train at Dorchester, resulted in the southbound 6789 train crew likely assuming that they had met northbound 6351 at Dorchester.

The Board also noted that had the southbound 6789 train crew complied with their track warrant, they would not have left Dorchester and the accident would not have occurred. The Board also found that had the dispatcher consistently referred to all of the trains by their engine numbers - the identification mechanism required in mandatory directives - it would have reinforced the need to verify engine number when the trains met.

[National Transportation Safety Board, 6-13-06]