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Veterans' float in Texas crossed train track after signals, officials say

MIDLAND, Texas — A parade float filled with wounded veterans that was struck by a freight train had crossed onto the railroad tracks after the bells-and-lights warning system was activated, investigators said Saturday.

Four veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were killed and 16 more people were injured when the train crashed into the flatbed truck in Midland in West Texas.

It was the second of two floats carrying veterans in Thursday's parade. The first was exiting the tracks when the warning bells and signals were activated, 20 seconds before the accident, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The second float didn't enter the tracks until several seconds after the warning system went off, the NTSB said. By that time, the guardrail was lowering.

"Once the crossing becomes active, people should stop," lead investigator Robert Accetta with the NTSB said at a news conference Saturday.

The time line was pieced together by combining information from a video camera mounted on the front of the train, another one on a sheriff's car, and a data recorder that acts like an airplane's black box, activating when the train blared the horn, NTSB member Mark Rosekind said.

Nine seconds before the crash, the train sounded its horn, a blaring that lasted four seconds, according to Rosekind. The guardrail hit the truck, then the engineer pulled the emergency brake, trying to bring the train that was traveling at 62 mph to a screeching halt.

The NTSB has also interviewed the engineer and conductor, and established the train's air brakes were working, Rosekind said. No mechanical problems were found with the cars. A review of the train's maintenance history found no defects, he added. The tracks also had no problems.

Part of the investigation includes whether the parade had the proper permit.

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