Railroad accidents between a truck and a train were once more thrust into the forefront of the media after a train carrying members of the Republican congress struck a semi- truck at a railroad crossing. The crash resulted in the death of one truck occupant, injury to another and minor injuries to several passengers and crew of the train.
In the South Carolina crash it was determined that the truck went around a crossing gate that was in the lowered position. Residents in the area said that the gate often became stuck in the closed position tempting impatient drivers to go around it.
Safety Measures for Railroad Crossings
Railroad crossings are almost always marked by cross buck signs. If there is more than one set of tracks at the crossing the number should be indicated on a sign beneath the cross buck. Cross buck signs often have flashing red lights to warn of an approaching train. Many, especially on heavily traveled roads, have integral crossing gates that close simultaneously.
Truckers must obey several rules when approaching a railroad crossing to avoid tragedy. Disobeying the laws in place for crossing railroad tracks subjects a driver to the loss of his or her CDL for 60 days for the first violation, 120 days for the second violation and no less than one year for a third violation.
All truckers must adhere to the following rules:
· A railroad cross buck sign or yellow metal crossing sign is to be treated as a yield sign. Truckers must obey warning lights and crossing gates that are lowered or descending.
· Windows should be rolled down and any noise inside the cab, like radios and fans, should be turned off to hear an oncoming train. The driver should do a “double take” which means look right and left then right and left again then proceed slowly in the lowest gear possible.
· Truckers hauling hazardous materials are required to stop at all railroad crossings at a distance of 15 to 50 feet back from the tracks, before proceeding.
One of the most hazardous situations exists when the road traveled by the truck runs parallel to the track and then turns and crosses over. This gives the trucker little space to see before crossing. Truckers must be extremely cautious in these situations.
· Trucks must never stop while crossing tracks or shift gears, which may cause the truck to stall.
· Truckers must be certain that the opposite side is clear of other vehicles with enough room for the entire length of their rig. They should look for the presence a traffic signal on the opposite side that could back up traffic to the tracks.
· In ‘hump’ type crossings it is the responsibility of the truck driver to be sure his trailer has sufficient clearance from bottoming out. Certain trailers, such as lowboy flat beds and furniture vans, ride much closer to the ground than other trailers.
· On rare occasions, a gate on the other side of the tracks may begin to close after a truck has begun to cross. Under no circumstances should the trucker stop. It is better to break through the gate than to risk a crash.
What Can Result from Disobeying the Railroad Crossing Rules?
On January 14, 2016 the driver of an 18-wheeler was killed when he failed to see an approaching passenger train in Mesquite TX. The cab of the truck as well as the train engine and first two cars were engulfed in flames.
In August of 2010 an Amtrak train struck a big rig at a railroad crossing in Kern County CA. injuring 22. Police say that the signals and crossing arms were working properly at the time of the crash. The driver of the truck walked away unhurt.
In 2011 an Amtrak train carrying 163 passengers collided with a truck hauling two trailers of tomatoes in Stanislaus County CA. north of Fresno. The truck was stopped, blocking the tracks. The driver of the train sounded the horn but could not stop in time. Twenty passengers were injured in the crash.
Studies have shown that many commercial vehicle drivers are not properly trained in railroad crossing safety. Until this situation improves, the foreboding possibility of more deaths and destruction from railroad crossing truck accidents will continue in communities across the country.
Driving professionally requires the highest levels of diligence at all times. No other situation requires more caution than when crossing railroad tracks. Following proper safety procedures will save lives, prevent injuries and costly property damage.