October 24, 2014

Shuttle van service fined after deadly BSNF crash

KELSO, Wash. – Shuttle van operator Coach America Crew Transport has been fined more than $13,000 by the State of Washington for alleged safety lapses in the wake of a train-van accident in March that killed a BNSF engineer, a conductor trainee and the van driver, and seriously injured a UTU-member conductor.

The shuttle van, transporting BNSF crew members to an away-from-home terminal, was struck by a BNSF train at a private crossing in Kelso.

According to the Vancouver Columbian, Coach America Crew Transport was fined by the state for “failing to tailor its accident prevention program to the types of hazards drivers may encounter” and for “not implementing and enforcing safety training programs for employees and not providing on-the-job instruction to employees about hazards.” Coach America said it would appeal the violations.

A spokesperson for the State Department of Labor and Industries told the Columbian, “This is a company who has 260 drivers in our state. When we looked at their accident prevention program, we didn’t see any language about driving.”

Killed in the accident were conductor trainee Chris Loehr, 28, of Seattle; engineer and BLET member Thomas J. Kenny, 58, a 22-year BNSF employee of Shoreline, Wash.; and the Coach America Crew Transport driver, Steven Dean Sebastian, 60.

Critically injured was UTU member and conductor Dwight L. Hauck, 51, of Auburn, Wash., a member and trustee of UTU Local 324 with 22 years of railroad service.

The Longview Daily News reported at the time of the accident that the shuttle van had just departed a BNSF yard at Kelso and was crossing the tracks at the private crossing when struck by a northbound freight train with a consist of three locomotives and 106 carloads of grain. The Seattle-bound train had originated in Crookston, Minn.

Following the collision, the van plunged down a 25-foot embankment, landing some 50 feet from the highway-rail grade-crossing.

The BNSF operating employees in the van reportedly had brought a train from Seattle to Kelso and were being transported by Coach America Crew Transport to overnight lodging.

The Federal Railroad Administration is still investigating the accident.