Experts Say Train/Truck Crashes Ultimately in the Hands of Truck Drivers. What Do You Say?by Jana Ritter - Published: 4/03/2015
After a series of train/truck crashes occurring at multiple railroad crossings throughout the US over the past few years, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced a new campaign designed to increase enforcement and safety awareness at grade crossings. Less than two weeks after their incentive was announced, another crash between an Amtrak train crashed and a tractor-trailer occurred in North Carolina, injuring 55 passengers. Since then, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been heavily investigating the cause of that crash and consulting with experts to determining how to better prevent these incidents from occurring at all.
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Russell Quimby is the lead investigator for the NTSB and has had over 22 years of railroad accident investigation experience. He says that the answer is better truck driver training and stricter licensing requirements for CDLs. “Many times the truck driver is tired, makes a bad choice or is trying to beat the train. Trucks have a lot more flexibility than a train - the train can't stop – but all the driver has to do is stop and make sure that a train isn't coming," Quimby says.
Alarming FRA statistics found that between 2010 and 2012, train/tractor- trailer accidents occurred at highway grade crossings more than 300 times each year alone and that the total grade crossing incidents for all vehicles and pedestrians had reached a whopping 2,262 resulting in 250 fatalities. While the FRA and railroad companies have been trying to increase grade-crossing safety through public awareness campaigns, technology, enforcement and infrastructure upgrades, the consensus among many experts is that that the major responsibility for train/truck crashes is still in the hands of truck drivers.
Jeffrey Buckholz is president of Buckholz Traffic in Jacksonville, Florida, with 37 years experience in the traffic-engineering field. "The problem with truck drivers is not that they go around the gates. They typically get caught on the tracks," Buckholz says. He further explains that truck drivers sometimes attempt to cross tracks but then find that they don't have enough room to clear it as traffic in front of them backs up. He also adds that the time a crossing warning bell sounds and the train rushes past can be as little as 20 seconds and this doesn't give a driver a lot of time to clear the tracks if traffic has backed up. He suggests that simply increasing the warning time would help a lot in preventing these type of incidents .
But Scott Turner, president of Scott L. Turner Consulting, in Blairstown, New Jersey argues that the prevention of truck/truck crashes really comes down to the truck driver's Inattentiveness or poor judgment about the length of their trailer. "He thinks he has enough space to clear the tracks but then realizes, too late, that he doesn’t and winds up getting his tail-end clipped by the train." Turner suggests that carriers should give their drivers more incentive to pay attention to safety by offering rewards for incident-free miles as well as providing them with better training to understand what behaviors cause crashes. ""Things like that, in conjunction with other incremental steps, can really make a solid system that helps improve safety… If you can reduce accidents by 20 percent, say, that's money that goes directly to the bottom line as well as saving lives," he says.
What do you say? Do truck/train crashes mostly come down to the ability of the truck driver or are there other factors that should be looked at as well?