Railroad News

Delayed Braking Action by Engineer Intensified Austin MetroRail Tragedy

(Austin, Texas – August 29, 2012)

An investigative article which analyzed Austin Police Dept. documents the Austin American-Statesman obtained after requesting the reports via the Texas Public Information Act was published in Wednesday’s edition of the newspaper in an article bylined by Ben Wear of the newspaper’s staff revealed that Herzog locomotive engineer Kazi Adnan Jahangir, 43, activated the train’s stopping and warning system only after he determined the car could not get off the tracks.

>Jeremy Barta, 32, died and his sons, Ethan, 8, and Corbin, 5, suffered severe facial injuries in the collision with the 134-foot-long train traveling at 40 mph at the crossing, which had a gravel ballast surface that may have contributed to the victim’s car getting momentarily stuck at the crossing.

The document obtained from APD said that the engineer noted that “The car was not moving, but he (Jahangir) thought it would eventually get out of the way. When the car did not, he sounded his bell and horn and began emergency braking procedures.” The synopsis of the police investigator’s report also said that the engineer described the scene as “like a blur.”

Contacted by the American-Statesman news writer Wednesday, Jahangir refused to comment other than to say “I can’t talk about it. My boss told me I can’t talk to anyone.”

A toxicology report on the victim showed the total absence of any alcohol or drugs in Barta’s system, and the APD report also addressed any possible suicidal actions, deeming those as without merit.

Barta’s ex-wife and mother of the two children, Barbara Johns “denied that Jeremy would ever hurt himself or their children,” read the police report.

The Swiss manufacturer of Austin Metro’s light rail trains, Stadler Bussnang AG, said the train, at 40 mph, should have stopped within 325 feet of the application of the emergency brakes. But after analyzing the fact that the train, with the victims’ car impaled on the nose of the train, came to rest 225 feet beyond the crossing, the train may have been as close as 100 feet from the crossing before its brakes were activated.

Capital Metro has announced plans to replace the rock surfaces of the crossing, which is near the Loop 1 Tollway, just south of Scofield Ridge Parkway, as well as all its private crossings, with concrete and asphalt surfaces and flashing lights during the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2013. Scott Eason, with whom Barta and his sons lived, had charged after the tragedy that loose rock and the short, steep incline leading to the tracks, made it difficult to get across the tracks.

When asked about either Capital Metro’s or Herzog’s policies regarding an engineer’s required response to the presence of a person or car on the track, Capital Metro Spokeswoman Erica Macioge offered an ambiguous statement that both the agency and its contractor adhere to the Federal Railroad Administration’s and overall railroad industry’s General Code of Operating Rules. A study of the 152-page book, which governs all rail operations nationwide, or any other federal or corporate rules applying to the situation, by the newspaper’s staff still left the question unanswered.