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.
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, flashing lights and audible warning signals. All of those systems were activated as Peter Barnum, 35, of Farmington, N.H., tried to drive the tractor-trailer across the railroad tracks, the lawsuit says.
Barnum was hauling about 25 tons of trash from Kittery to the Maine Energy incinerator in Biddeford.
Though the suit does not specify the amount of damages that Amtrak is seeking, it says the cost of the damage done to the locomotive 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, 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.
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 it passed in front of the northbound train.
The collision set the locomotive on fire and seared the passenger coach behind it. According to Amtrak, 112 passengers were on board at the time. 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. Barnum’s body was found about 200 feet from the site of the crash.
In the suit, Amtrak claims that Triumvirate “failed to properly train or failed to train altogether … Barnum. Triumvirate negligently hired Barnum and negligently entrusted the vehicle to Barnum, who it knew or should have known was unqualified to operate” the tractor-trailer.
Lawyers for Amtrak and Triumvirate did not return phone calls or emails left at their offices late Monday.
Hugh Drummond, a spokesman for Triumvirate, said he is aware of the lawsuit against the company. He said the company would not comment on pending litigation.
North Berwick Police Chief Stephen Peasley, whose department is investigating the cause of the crash, could not be reached late Monday.
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.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]