With its front end still dented and its whistle blaring, a train sped through a crossing and headed for a school bus as investigators re-enacted the collision that killed seven students.
Ribbons and flowers placed in memory of those who died in Wednesday's crash rustled in the breeze as the train passed.The tests conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board clearly showed there was too little room for the bus between the tracks behind it and a stoplight at a highway in front of it. In two re-enactments without a bus, the train could not stop without completely passing through the intersection, even with the emergency brakes applied.
Some of the 40 or so onlookers cried during one test that positioned the train just 3 feet from an identical yellow school bus - a freeze frame of the moment just before the crash.
"I'm trying to imagine how the children felt in there," said Gloria Crossley of Cary, the nearby town that shares Cary-Grove high school, where the teenagers were heading. "It's eerie. It's sad."
The school bus involved in last week's crash had stopped at the intersection with its back end over the tracks. The train, traveling at about 60 mph, struck the rear of the bus, shearing the cabin from the chassis.
Visitations for three of the teen-agers killed were held Sunday, with funerals set for Monday. A seventh teenager will be buried Tuesday. More than two dozen people were injured in the crash.
Using evidence such as skid marks and gouges in the road left by the accident, investigators placed a bus where the real bus stood before the accident. Video cameras recorded what the bus driver and train engineer would have seen and heard as the train approached.
Then, the bus was moved forward far enough to clear the tracks and the width of the train. That put it over the crosswalk and about 6 feet into the highway's right traffic lane.
NTSB spokesman Bob Barlett said Sunday's re-creations will be included in a final report on the accident, which should be issued in six to nine months.