He didn't make it, and shouldn't have tried. Screenshots via YouTube

He didn't make it, and shouldn't have tried. Screenshots via YouTube

One of the many federal safety regulations governing commercial vehicle drivers is one that prohibits a trucker from changing gears while crossing a set of railroad tracks. I guess it’s meant to prevent a guy from missing a shift, getting bogged down, and being kissed by a train. One that could be a kiss of death.

Truckers might think their rigs are big, but they ain’t diddly compared to a locomotive and the train behind it. Eighty thousand pounds? A locomotive can weigh 300,000 or more, and the whole train totals thousands of tons. If it’s moving fast, you may as well be mashed by a meteor. A big one.

Class 8 trucks and tractor-trailers are routinely struck and torn apart by freight and passenger trains because drivers aren’t paying enough attention to what they’re doing, or think they can beat a train to a grade crossing. Automobiles, of course, fare even worse. Such collisions occurred about 2,100 times last year, according to the Federal Railway Administration (though it used to be far worse – about 12,000 times in 1972).

A trailer tends to explode and its contents scatter when hit by a super-heavy locomotive. And a tractor can be mangled.

A trailer tends to explode and its contents scatter when hit by a super-heavy locomotive. And a tractor can be mangled.

People at Operation Lifesaver, a public education campaign on behalf of railroads and traffic safety authorities, get understandably upset over such incidents, especially those in which people are hurt or killed. Most of the time the victims are in the cars or trucks. Occasionally it’s a kid walking along some tracks with headphones on and he doesn’t hear a train coming behind him. Kids will be kids.

But sometimes people on a train are injured and killed when a heavy truck T-bones it or causes it to derail. I wonder about drivers who hit trains or run right into their paths: What were they thinking?

After a collision, locomotive engineers, even if they escape physical harm, tend to feel intensely guilty for killing someone, and never mind that the guy or gal in the car or truck or on the tracks was grossly at fault. And the railroaders have a hard time getting over it. (If you’ve ever hit someone with your rig, then you know the feeling.)

I can’t think of a good excuse for a motor vehicle to be hit by, or hit, a train. Don’t want to be delayed? If you collide with a train, your delay may last forever. Brake failure? The trucker or motorist shouldn’t operate a vehicle with bad brakes (and a driver can tell when the brakes aren’t working as they should).

Got caught by the gates? Don’t even pull onto the tracks unless you can see nothng’s coming, and can completely cross them without stopping.

Couldn’t see or hear the train coming? Stop, Look, and Listen! At least slow down for a grade crossing and look down the tracks in both directions before crossing. And turn down the radio and crack open a window so you can hear the horn of an approaching train, even at crossings with signals and gates. Those devices are very reliable, but you never know.

Operation Lifesaver's collection of wreck photos give a viewer something to think about. This display was at the Toledo Amtrak station on May 5. Photo: Tom Berg

Operation Lifesaver's collection of wreck photos give a viewer something to think about. This display was at the Toledo Amtrak station on May 5. Photo: Tom Berg

A few days ago I was at an event where Operation Lifesaver had a display and was holding safety classes. I exempted myself from sitting through a class, because I have great respect for trains and what they can do to me. But I did study the display of wreck photos to remind myself of what can happen. Take a look at this 10 minutes’ worth of train-car/truck collisions on YouTube (and the many other videos you’ll find there). Then, please be careful.

Related: Risky Maneuver Breaks a Two-Rig Blockade

Author

Tom Berg
Tom Berg

Tom Berg

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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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.

View Bio
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