Questions remain on why truck in train crash didn’t stop

By John M. Guilfoil
Globe Staff / July 13, 2011

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Investigators turned their focus yesterday to why a truck hauling about 50,000 pounds of trash failed to stop in time to avoid a fatal crash with a northbound Amtrak Downeaster train on Monday in North Berwick, Maine.

The tractor-trailer driver was identified yesterday as Peter Barnum, 35, of Farmington, N.H., police said. Barnum was killed in the crash and six people were hurt, including four train passengers and two crew members.

Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland said the investigation, witness accounts, and 200 feet of skid marks left on the Route 4 roadway show that Barnum tried to stop the truck before it crashed through an activated warning gate at the crossing.

“The driver obviously applied his brakes,’’ McCausland said. “The question is now why didn’t he stop quick enough. That’s an answer we don’t have at the moment.’’

Police are looking at cellphone and logbook records and GPS and other electronic equipment on the truck to try to determine why it did not stop in time. McCausland said police do not yet know how fast Barnum was driving, but the posted speed limit on the street is 35 miles per hour.

A spokesman for the trucking company that employed Barnum, Triumvirate Environmental Inc., said yesterday that the trash came from a transfer station in Kittery, Maine, and was being taken to the Maine Energy incinerator in Biddeford.

Barnum was hired in April. He had a clean driving record for the past two years and had been a licensed commercial driver for the past decade, the company said. The truck had also been properly inspected, the company added.

Barnum had two speeding tickets on his Maine driving record. A spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Motor Vehicles did not return calls seeking comment yesterday on Barnum’s driving record there.

The crash separated the locomotive from the rest of the train and created a fireball and several small fires around the area.

It also left piles of garbage scattered along the tracks and roadway.

Dwayne Morin, the North Berwick town manager, said yesterday that Amtrak hired crews to clean up the mess. Amtrak resumed normal operations late Monday, and yesterday’s trains were running on time.

Passengers praised the train crew for keeping people calm after the crash. Mark Monti, 51, of Cambridge, said the crew “did a fantastic job’’ explaining what had happened.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Globe Correspondent Martine Powers also contributed to the report. John M. Guilfoil can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globe_guilfoil.