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August 09. 2011 9:01PM

Amtrak sues trucking firm involved in fatal collision


Amtrak has filed suit against the Massachusetts company that owns the truck one of its Downeaster trains hit last month in a major collision in North Berwick, Maine. (Clynton Namuo)

Amtrak is blaming the Massachusetts company that owns the truck that collided with one of its Downeaster trains last month for causing the crash.

The crash killed the truck's driver, Peter Barnum of Farmington, but no one else was seriously injured.

In a federal lawsuit filed last week in Massachusetts, Amtrak says Triumvirate Environmental of Somerville, Mass., acted negligently by allowing Barnum to drive and that he caused the crash in North Berwick, Maine, about 5 miles from the border with New Hampshire, by circumventing a crossing gate.

“Barnum operated the tractor-trailer combination around the lowered crossing gates, despite the flashing lights, the audible warnings and the sounding of a horn from an approaching Amtrak train,” the suit says.

North Berwick police have not completed their investigation into the crash, but officials said just after the accident that the crossing gate appeared to be working fine.

The suit alleges that Amtrak sustained more than $3 million in property damage because of the crash, as well as additional undetermined damages because of lost business.

Barnum was driving a tractor-trailer loaded with trash on Route 4 in North Berwick around 11 a.m. on July 11 when the truck went past the gate and into the path of a train headed from Boston to Portland, Maine.

The train smashed into the truck's cab, creating a wall of fire as the locomotive continued forward, witnesses said at the time.

Skid marks leading to the crossing indicated that Barnum attempted to stop the truck, but could not bring it to a halt before the crossing.

The suit also alleges that Triumvirate “negligently hired Barnum and negligently entrusted the vehicle to Barnum, who it knew or should have known was unqualified to operate the Kenworth tractor-trailer combination.”

An Amtrak spokesman declined to comment on the suit yesterday, and John Bonistalli, who filed the suit on behalf of the company, did not return a call for comment.

Hugh Drummond, a Triumvirate spokesman, said the company would not comment on the suit.

The company defended its safety record in a statement issued just after the crash and said all its drivers follow strict federal guidelines.


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