August 9, 2011

Amtrak sues after crash

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BY DENNIS HOEY

The Portland Press Herald

Amtrak has sued the company whose truck driver was killed last month in a collision with a Downeaster passenger train in North Berwick, claiming the driver was negligent and caused the crash.

Though the lawsuit does not specify the amount of damages that Amtrak is seeking, court documents say the cost of the damage done to the locomotive engine and passenger cars is expected to exceed $3 million.

Amtrak's attorneys also claim that the train service lost business because of the crash and may incur more expenses related to the ongoing investigation of the cause of the crash, the cost of cleaning up the accident scene and the cost of medical care for Amtrak employees.

"The exact amount of these expenses and costs has not been determined," the lawsuit says.

Lawyers for Amtrak in Washington, D.C., filed the civil action Thursday in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.

Amtrak alleges that the truck driver for Triumvirate Environmental Inc., an environmental services firm based in Somerville, Mass., ignored railroad crossing protection controls and warnings, as well as the locomotive's horn, while entering the Elm Street rail crossing in North Berwick on the morning of July 11.

Amtrak says the crossing is equipped with crossing gates and arms, flashing lights and audible warning signals.

All of those systems were activated when the driver of the tractor trailer, Peter Barnum, 35, of Farmington, N.H., tried to drive across the railroad tracks, the lawsuit says.

Lawyers for Amtrak and Triumvirate did not return phone calls or emails left Monday at their offices.

But Hugh Drummond, a spokesman for Triumvirate, said he is aware of the lawsuit filed against the firm. He said the company would not comment on pending litigation.

Patricia Quinn, executive director for the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said her agency has nothing to do with the legal action. The authority only contracts with Amtrak to operate the Downeaster passenger service between Boston and Portland.

The Downeaster hit the truck. The collision set the locomotive on fire and seared the passenger coach behind it. According to Amtrak, there were 112 passengers on board at the time.

None of the passengers was seriously hurt, but four passengers and two crew members were treated for minor injuries.

Witnesses told The Portland Press Herald that the truck's brakes locked and it skidded 75 yards before crashing through the railroad crossing gate. The driver's badly burned body was found about 200 feet from the site of collision.

Barnum was hauling about 25 tons of trash from Kittery to the Maine Energy incinerator in Biddeford.

Amtrak is seeking a jury trial.

John Bonistalli, a Boston-based attorney representing Amtrak, alleges in court documents that "the tractor trailer operated by Barnum failed to heed the warnings, crossing protection controls and the locomotive horn, and entered the crossing just in front of the Amtrak train as it proceeded through the crossing."

The lawsuit further alleges that Barnum "operated the tractor trailer around the lowered crossing gates, despite the flashing lights, the audible warnings, and the sounding of a horn from an approaching train."

The lawsuit claims that Barnum "negligently operated" the tractor trailer so as to cause it to pass in front of the train.

Michael Johnson, an attorney for Boyle, Morrissey & Campo of Boston, represents Triumvirate in the suit.

Johnson could not be reached for comment.

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