NORTH BERWICK, Maine—The investigation into a fatal train crash Monday morning is focused the tractor-trailer carrying tons of trash that was on the tracks as a Downeaster train came through at 70 mph.
Initial indications are that the train and the railroad crossing gate were both operating normally.
“From our perspective, we know that there was a truck on the tracks that shouldn’t have been,” said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Portland, Maine-based Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority that oversees the Downeaster. “The train was where it was supposed to be, doing what it was supposed to do. It’s very unfortunate that this happened.”
She added: “The train did nothing wrong.”
An Amtrak spokesman agreed.
“The train was traveling on its usual route and the truck was on the tracks for some unknown reason and that becomes an issue of the truck being where it’s not supposed to be,” said spokesman Cliff Cole. “From where we sit, our engineers and our crew didn’t do anything wrong. They were just operating the train in the usual manner and came across a truck.”
Peter Barnum, of Farmington, N.H., died instantly when the train collided with the cab of his truck just after 11 a.m. Monday. Police said skid marks and witnesses indicated that Barnum tried to stop the vehicle prior to the crossing, but ended up on the tracks. Barnum was working for Somerville, Mass.-based Triumvirate Environmental.
Barnum’s brother-in-law, Rob Ruel, answered the phone Monday night at the home Barnum shared with his wife, Stephanie, and two children ages 13 and 10.
“He was a great guy,” Ruel said. “Obviously, we're not taking the news very well at this point.”
Stephanie Barnum did not return messages Tuesday, but she expressed her pain via posts on her Facebook page.
“I got to spend 20 wonderful years with my best friend,” she wrote in one post. “I can't believe u r gone a piece of me has gone with u! I love u always.”
In another post, she said: “It feels like my heart has been ripped out of my chest.”
Maine state police are investigating the truck to determine how fast it was traveling before and during the crash, spokesman Steve McCausland said. The information will then be forwarded to North Berwick police, who are leading the investigation into the vehicle.
Barnum was traveling from Kittery, Maine’s transfer station up to a waste to energy plant in Biddeford, Maine when he encountered the train, Triumvirate Environmental spokesman Hugh Drummond said.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time,” the company said in a statement. “We are cooperating fully with the authorities as they conduct their investigation of the accident. The safety of our fleet and operations, and well being of our employees, is of the utmost importance to Triumvirate Environmental.”
There were 115 people, including three crew members, on the train Monday and none received serious injuries, Quinn said.
“The engineer and the assistant conductor were both taken to the hospital and released and four passengers were taken to the hospital and released,” she said.
The accident occurred between stations in Dover, N.H., and Wells, Maine. The scene is about five miles from the New Hampshire border. There are also stations in Exeter and Durham in New Hampshire.
Service on Amtrak’s Downeaster line between Boston and Portland, Maine, with three New Hampshire stops in between, resumed late Monday night. Some delays are expected because the trains must travel at just 10 mph through the crash scene as the investigation proceeds, Quinn said.