On a summer morning in the eastern U.S., a compost spreader truck was driving from a pulp mill to its compost spreading site on the other side of a railroad crossing. A train was approaching the crossing. The weather was not a factor in this incident.
The driver of the truck was a trainee in his first week performing this task, and the passenger was serving as the trainer. The two had been taking turns driving for several days. Both individuals had been working with their employer for slightly over a year. Neither received documented training procedures, but the trainer had been trained to stop, look, and listen before crossing the railroad tracks.
Unsafe Acts and Coniditions
The trainer did not share the “stop, look, and listen” procedure with the trainee, nor did he set that example when driving himself. When the trainee began crossing a dual set of railroad tracks, the windows were rolled up. This made it harder to hear the train horn, which was blowing before and after the train became visible. The driver briefly looked both ways prior to entering the track right-of-way but simply rolled slowly through the stop sign. This slow, “rolling stop” was a habit they had fallen into.
Although the train was visible when the truck entered the crossing, the sight distance was not particularly long due to a gradual track curve and the surrounding forest. This low-use private crossing did not have automatic safety features such as crossing gates or lights installed. The truck was loaded, heavy, and operating slowly in a low gear.
The driver and the trainer realized the train was about to hit them, but it was too late to exit the vehicle. The train struck the truck on the passenger side near the front of the tandem rear wheels, folding the truck up against the train, pushing it along and narrowly avoiding a metal tower 50 feet further down the tracks. The truck was then forced off the tracks and into a field alongside the right-of-way. The train struck the truck at a speed of 32 mph; the railroad speed limit for that area of track was 35 mph.
The passenger sustained a broken nose, an arm injury, and lacerations that required stitches. The driver received bruises and scratches. The spreader truck was a total loss. Both individuals were very fortunate to escape with their lives.
Recommendations for Correction
- Remove vegetation along the tracks to improve sight distance and visibility.
- Improve training procedures specific to railroad crossings; study and training should include a review of this incident and the safety information provided by the railroad.
- Never ignore railroad crossing safety procedures; obey the “stop, look, and listen” instruction! Do not take the potential for a collision lightly, even if the odds seem low!
Rick Meyer, Appalachian Region Manager