The truck-train collision in Orange Park, Florida last Friday (March 27th) barely made a blip on news feeds in the wake of the fatal Oxnard crash in February and the massive Halifax accident earlier this month. No surprise, considering that trucks get into accidents at highway-rail crossings about ten times per week.
Orange Park the Latest in a Series of Preventable Accidents
In the Orange Park accident, the truck was hauling a $300,000 sports car when it bottomed out on the railroad tracks and became stuck. The truck driver said he called 911 and begged them to stop the train. Authorities were apparently unable to stop the train in time. It struck the truck at a relatively slow speed, but separated the cab from the trailer. The truck driver was able to escape from his truck with a few minutes to spare. The sports car was thrown from the trailer into a ditch.
All three accidents, Oxnard, Halifax, and Orange Park had one thing in common: they could have all been prevented with better communication.
Lack of Communication to Blame for Accidents
There is currently no federal law or regulation backed by significant criminal or civil penalties requiring coordination between truck and train operators. A third of states don’t require it, either. Instead, there are best practices guidelines in place — guidelines that are almost impossible to enforce and leave no one in particular holding the blame when an accident does occur.
Instead, there are best practices guidelines in place — guidelines that are almost impossible to enforce and leave no one in particular holding the blame when an accident does occur.
Since 2000, the NTSB campaigned to hold truck drivers responsible for communicating with the railroad about potentially dangerous crossings, but the FMCSA blocked the campaign, saying that responsibility should be shared. The two agencies have been at an impasse on the issue ever since.
A High-Tech Solution or a Simple Fix?
The Association of American Railroads was required by Congress to complete and implement a high-tech global positioning system solution by this year, but they say that the cost and time frame of the project was unrealistic. They say they have already spent $5 billion on the project and would need to spend $9 billion to complete the project and are requesting another 5 years to get it done. Many experts are questioning how effective the system would be at preventing truck-train collisions.
A better (cheaper, more effective) solution? Fix the broken channels of communication.
The NTSB’s Robert Hall says the answer is as simple as prominently displaying a toll-free emergency number that would connect to the dispatcher of the train.