Rail crossing grade contributed to fatal collision | Arizona I-40 pavement work under way

Trucking news and briefs for Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023:

NTSB: Steep rail crossing contributed to truck-train collision

Dashcam screengrab from Amtrak trainThis screengrab from the dashcam of an Amtrak locomotive shows a dump truck moments before it was struck, leading to three fatalities and a multitude of injuries.NTSB via AmtrakThe National Transportation Safety Board in a final report on a fatal collision between an Amtrak train and a dump truck at a railroad crossing in Mendon, Missouri, in June 2022, said that the steepness of the road grade and the angle of the intersection at the railroad crossing contributed to the collision.

As reported this week by Overdrive, with regulators exploring a potential side underride guard mandate on trailers, ground clearance at railroad crossings is a major concern for the trucking industry.

The June 27, 2022, collision occurred when a dump truck crossed over rail tracks without stopping at a stop sign/crossbucks sign at the grade crossing. The truck was struck by an Amtrak train, killing the truck driver and three train passengers, and injuring 146 passengers and crew. The collision derailed both locomotives and all eight railcars.

NTSB said the probable cause of the collision “was the truck driver proceeding for unknown reasons into the highway-railroad grade crossing without stopping despite the presence of a stop sign and approaching train.”

The NTSB noted, however, that the steepness of the road grade in this instance was 13 times the maximum slope recommended by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), making it difficult for a truck to accelerate through the crossing if it came to a complete stop, as required by Missouri law. Additionally, the angle of the intersection was 30 degrees sharper than the lower limit of the range recommended by AASHTO.

[Related: Side underride guard mandate: Rail disaster waiting to happen?]

Another dump truck driver who worked for the same company as the driver involved in the crash and witnessed the collision told NTSB “he did not usually stop at the crossing as required by Missouri law because the steep grade made starting again difficult. The collision truck driver’s movement through the crossing was therefore consistent with how the witness driver would proceed with no train present,” NTSB said. “This suggests that the driver involved in the collision did not see the train as he approached and entered the crossing.”

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NTSB investigator at rail crossingAn NTSB investigator (left) leans forward to see an eastbound BNSF train, showing that the angle of the rail crossing made it difficult for drivers to see oncoming trains around the B-pillar of their trucks.NTSB

“The safest rail grade crossing is no rail grade crossing,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. “But at the very least, every road-rail intersection should have an adequate design to ensure proper visibility so drivers can see oncoming trains. Communities across the country deserve safer crossings so these types of accidents don’t happen again.”

The investigation found the dump truck driver was not using a cell phone; toxicological testing did not indicate that the driver was impaired; the train was traveling at an authorized speed; and there were no weather-related risk factors for reduced visibility or audibility.

Since the collision occurred, NTSB noted the involved crossing has been closed. Additionally, the city of Chillicothe, in collaboration with the Missouri Department of Transportation and Chariton County, has developed a plan to close several other passive crossings and redesign local roads to direct traffic through active crossings.  

[Related: Driver arrested after crash derails train in Tennessee]

I-40 lane restrictions planned for two weeks

Both directions of Interstate 40 in Arizona will be reduced to one lane between Seligman and Ash Fork during daylight hours Monday to Thursday starting Thursday, Aug. 3, and ending Thursday, Aug. 17, as an Arizona Department of Transportation project removes and replaces surface pavement. 

This stretch of I-40, which covers about 23 miles, is part of a stretch much-maligned by owner-operators for its particularly rough condition.

The lane restrictions, a 55-mph speed limit and a width restriction of 14.5 feet will be in place from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday between mileposts 123 and 146. 

[Related: Arizona I-40 rougher than a corncob? You bet, particularly between Kingman and Flagstaff]

The Arizona Department of Transportation said it has committed $90.5 million to pavement repair projects, most of them in northern Arizona. Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and the state Legislature also have allocated $54 million for additional pavement improvement projects in rural Arizona.

Meanwhile, another ADOT project will reduce westbound I-40 to one lane from milepost 108 to milepost 86, between Seligman and U.S. 93, from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting Tuesday, Aug. 8, and ending Thursday, Aug. 11. Crews will be applying a sealant to extend the life of the pavement. The speed limit will be reduced to 55 mph in the work zone and there will be a width restriction of 14 feet. 

[Related: Owner-operators call out the absolute worst stretch of highway in America]

Relay accepting nominations for Haul of Fame, NASCAR trip

To celebrate truck drivers, Relay Payments is now accepting nominations for drivers who should be inducted in the company’s "Haul of Fame."

After a nomination period, two winners will be selected to win an all-inclusive trip to a NASCAR race during Truck Driver Appreciation Week. Relay recently partnered with NASCAR team Hendrick Motorsports and driver William Byron on a sponsorship deal.

Criteria for nominations for Relay’s Haul of Fame include:

  • Nominees have enhanced the image of trucking, had a positive impact on the industry and served their community
  • The nominee must be 21 years of age or older, a U.S. citizen and hold a current CDL
  • Owner-operators can nominate themselves

All nominations must be submitted by Aug. 20 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time.

Each winner will receive:

  • Two tickets to the NASCAR Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 16
  • Airfare for two and a night at the Red Roof Inn in Kingsport, Tennessee
  • Transfers to and from the track and spending money
  • Exclusive Relay #24 race car swag signed by William Byron

[Related: Relay Payments sponsoring NASCAR team through end of ’23 season]

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