1999 Bourbonnais, Illinois, train accident

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1999 Bourbonnais, Illinois, train accident
NTSB aerial view of Bourbonnais grade crossing accident.jpg
Date March 15, 1999
Time 9:47 pm
Location Bourbonnais, Illinois
Country United States
Operator Illinois Central Railroad
Type of incident Derailment
Cause Track Circuit (Approach Circuit) failure to detect the Amtrak train immediately.
Trains 1
Deaths 11
Injuries 122

The 1999 Bourbonnais, Illinois, train accident was a train-truck collision between Amtrak's southbound City of New Orleans passenger train and a semi truck in the village of Bourbonnais, Illinois, near the city of Kankakee. Almost the entire train derailed, costing 11 lives. A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the accident attributed the cause to the truck driver trying to beat the train across a grade crossing. However, the Illinois State Police investigation found Track Circuit malfunction as the cause. The NTSB's recommendations from the accident included increased enforcement of grade crossing signals, the installation of event recorders at all new or improved grade crossings, and procedures to provide emergency responders with accurate lists of all crew members and passengers aboard trains. The city of Bourbonnais erected a memorial near the site to commemorate those killed in the accident.

Accident and investigation[edit]

The accident occurred at 9:47 pm Central (local) time on March 15, 1999, in Bourbonnais, Illinois, in the United States on the Illinois Central Railroad. The southbound Amtrak train 59, the City of New Orleans, hit a semi truck, loaded with steel, that was blocking a grade crossing. The accident resulted in the deaths of at least 11 of the train's passengers, 122 injuries and over US$14 million in damage.

Both of the train's locomotives and 11 of the train's 14 passenger cars derailed; the derailed cars hit two of the 10 freight cars on a siding next to the mainline.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) attributes the cause of the accident to the truck driver's reaction to the grade crossing signals. Thinking he could beat the train across the tracks, the driver chose to proceed onto the tracks in front of the train. The driver reported that the crossing signal did not activate until his vehicle was "right on top of the track," but he also stated that he did not want to brake quickly to avoid a shifting load that could hit the back of the truck's cab. Witnesses stated that the gates came down after the truck had entered the grade crossing. One witness stated that the gate clipped the truck's trailer and that part of the gate may have broken off as a result.

The NTSB's investigation placed the fault of the accident on the truck driver, John R. Stokes, and his failure to yield at the grade crossing; Stokes was sentenced on September 21, 2004, to two years in prison for logbook and hours of service violations. However, Mr. Stokes was not found guilty of causing the crash. A thorough investigation by the Illinois State Police found that the train detection system, called the Track Circuit, had failed to detect the fast-moving (79 MPH) Amtrak train at the beginning of the Approach Circuit and turn on the flashing lights and gates for the federally required 20 seconds. A witness saw the late activation and the gates coming down just as the front of the locomotive reached the crossing. That conclusion was confirmed by the Chief Engineer for the company that manufactured the Track Circuit equipment, Harmon Industries.

In the sentencing trial Kankakee County Judge Clark Erickson stated that it was not proven if a lack of rest played a factor in the accident but that he believed Stokes would have been more able to make safe driving decisions if he had been fully rested.[1]

Driver John Stokes was later found to have multiple violations that required his attendance of traffic school five times in three different counties, which should have resulted in his license being suspended at the time of the crash. He died in February 2007. [2][dead link]

NTSB recommendations[edit]

As a result of the accident, the NTSB made several recommendations:

  • To the highway maintainers:
    • Review the effectiveness of current railroad grade crossing signals and the use of traffic division islands in deterring motorists from trying to drive around crossing gates.
  • To the railroads:
    • Initiate procedures to get accurate passenger and crew lists to emergency responders.
    • Implement improved crew accountability procedures on reserved passenger trains.
    • Install event recorders on all new or improved grade crossings.


Following the accident the city of Bourbonnais erected a memorial to the people who died in the accident. It can be seen on the intersection of Highway 45 and 102 across from the Olivet Nazarene University campus. On January 17, 2006, the Village Board of Bourbonnais voted to permanently close the grade crossing where the accident occurred. A replacement crossing will be built at another location nearby that will, the Village Board hopes, prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ WMAQ TV Chicago (September 28, 2004), Driver Sentenced In Deadly Amtrak Crash. Retrieved January 19, 2006.
  2. ^ Deborah Lockridge (March 2000). "Rebuilding the CDL". Heavy Duty Trucking Magazine. Retrieved February 3, 2010. 
  3. ^ Associated Press (reprinted by WMAQ TV, Chicago, January 18, 2006), Deadly Railroad Crossing Closed Down. Retrieved January 19, 2006.

Coordinates: 41°11′04.9″N 87°51′11.8″W / 41.184694°N 87.853278°W / 41.184694; -87.853278