Amtrak Train and Oversized Tractor-trailer Crash Bring Hiring, Safety and Communication to the Forefront

4/14/15

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A recent crash in North Carolina where an oversized tractor-trailer was struck by a train highlights several issues for commercial vehicle fleet operators and for-hire trucking companies to address when hiring drivers, providing safety training, and communicating with highway-rail operators. 

As reported by several news agencies, an Amtrak train collided with a tractor-trailer hauling an oversized load when the truck became stuck on the tracks in Halifax, North Carolina. While no lives were lost in the crash, there was significant damage to two derailed locomotives, multiple passenger cars, the truck and its heavy cargo load.

Since the crash, investigations revealed the driver had a history of traffic violations including speeding and driving with a revoked license multiple times. In addition, the driver has served prison time for other criminal activities not related to his driving record. It has also been reported that several safety practices may not have been followed that could have prevented this horrible event from occurring.

This incident is a timely case study for all commercial trucking companies about the necessity of proper hiring procedures, driver safety training and communication. Here are some best practices to help prevent these types of events:

Always conduct driver background checks –

Pre-employment background checks are a necessary process when hiring drivers to carry cargo of any size or amount. Knowing if a driver has a history of traffic violations or any other type of criminal behavior may determine whether they are the right driver to represent your business and manage cargo on your behalf. Considering this particular driver had multiple violations and other convictions serves are a reminder of the importance of conducting checks and having a policy on what is acceptable and what is not.

Ensure that drivers are trained to manage the cargo they carry -

US regulators say that trucks get into highway-rail accidents about 10 times per week with oversized tractor-trailers having a particular challenge navigating across rail crossings. This driver was given the responsibility to move an oversized load that was over 15 feet tall and more than 16 feet wide through a very challenging route. While it is not clear if the driver’s previous driving history may have complicated his judgment in trying to cross the tracks, it is clear that he struggled to make the turn in a timely manner taking between 15 to 20 minutes to maneuver the truck.

It is good practice to train drivers on tools provided by the FMCSA for example, that specifically talks about highway-rail grade crossing safety procedures. Consider training time well spent and a risk management tool to avert problems.

Get involved in the safety discussion –

Currently there is no government regulation backed by penalties that requires coordination between all entities who may be a part of an oversized load route. In this case a route was planned and coordinated with dispatch, highway patrol, the state transportation agency and the driver but no one was required to share this with the railroad to ensure any trains running during this time would be on the lookout of a possible crossing.

The cost for not communicating with the railroad turned out to be disastrous and is a loss for everyone. There are common sense ways to protect everyone that simply calls for communication between dispatch, law enforcement, state regulators and the railway operators. This may be oversimplifying the issue to some degree but highlights a basic need for communication.

This is a perfect time to consider how you can reduce your exposures before and after a crash and monitoring driver compliance to avoid predicaments like this.

HUB Transportation Insurance Services experts can help you with issues related to best practices for driver retention, regulatory concerns and safety training. Contact a HUB Transportation expert today to discuss ways to protect your business from disasters like these.