Trailer Talk

Who's to Blame in This RR Crossing Wreck?

Remember, “Stop, look and listen”? It's still a good idea for any driver.

January 26, 2017

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As seen from a police cruiser's dash camera, the crossing lights are dark and gates are up, and two FedEx rigs proceed across the tracks.  One makes it, the other doesn't. Photos: Tom Berg
As seen from a police cruiser's dash camera, the crossing lights are dark and gates are up, and two FedEx rigs proceed across the tracks.  One makes it, the other doesn't. Photos: Tom Berg

Maybe you saw it on a newscast the other day – a commuter train slamming through a set of FedEx doubles at a railroad crossing in North Salt Lake, Utah.  Probably every TV newscast in America carried the police dash-cam footage of the event on Jan. 24. It was spectacular, showing that a couple of trailers are really soft targets when hit by massive train equipment – in this case passenger coaches being pushed by a locomotive, a common operation among commuter railways.

Whoops! The oncoming train slams into the pup trailers and the tractor begins a short spin. 
Whoops! The oncoming train slams into the pup trailers and the tractor begins a short spin.

It was amazing that no one was killed or even injured. But there was plenty of embarrassment:

  • to the Utah Transit Authority, whose warning lights and gates for the crossing didn’t work;
  • to UTA workers sent to check on them after someone reported that they weren’t working, but the workers didn’t fix ‘em;
  • to the truck driver, who failed to see the train coming;
  • and to FedEx, which even now is probably explaining to a lot of shippers why their packages aren’t going to be delivered real soon, if at all.

As for blame, the stories on the ABC and NBC ‘casts focused on the non-working lights and gates, and reported the railroad’s preliminary finding that snow probably interfered with their operation. That’s possible, though they’re supposed to work in any weather.

Packages fly as the trailers bust open and the tractor spins free. Crossing lights and gates still aren't functioning. 
Packages fly as the trailers bust open and the tractor spins free. Crossing lights and gates still aren't functioning.

Not to be harsh, but I blame the truck driver, who drove across the tracks into the train’s path. Remember, “Stop, look and listen”? When I approach a crossing, I always at least slow down, look up and down the tracks, and crack open a window so I can hear a rumble or a locomotive’s horn. I do this no matter what warning lights and gates are or aren’t doing. It just makes sense, as we saw from this accident.

Anyway, you can watch the event as shown on ABC World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News, from where I shot these pics.

The gates came down after the wreck. And what a mess! Note that the impact yanked the fifth wheel off the tractor's frame. That means the fifth wheel's jaws hung onto the lead trailer's kingpin. 
The gates came down after the wreck. And what a mess! Note that the impact yanked the fifth wheel off the tractor's frame. That means the fifth wheel's jaws hung onto the lead trailer's kingpin.

Comments

  1. 1. David Kermp [ January 27, 2017 @ 04:42AM ]

    I think a lot more information needs to be addressed and analyzed before any one can Monday morning quarter back this accident.
    What was the sight line distance at what speed was the train traveling
    what was the speed limit for the train? how many seconds would the driver had to react if he had stopped, seen nothing and started across the tracks? This is why automatic signals are installed. What if an impatient four wheeler (one who's time is more valuable than any one else's) had come around the stopped fed ex truck. The driver will always be held at least partially culpable. the luck of the draw? Than Gad no one was killed.

 

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Author Bio

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Tom Berg

Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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