railwayThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has determined that the May 28, 2013 train/truck collision, 15-car derailment, and subsequent explosion in Rosedale, Md. was caused by the truck driver’s failure to ensure that the tracks were clear before traversing an un-gated highway-rail grade crossing. Contributing to the accident was the truck driver’s distraction due to a phone conversation on a hands-free device at the time of the crash.

Among the recommendations the NTSB made today as a result of the investigation was to extend the limitations on the use of portable electronic devices to prohibit the use of hands-free cellphones by all commercial driver’s license holders while operating a commercial vehicle.

Current laws misleading

“Current laws may mislead people to believe that hands free is as safe as not using a phone at all,’’ said Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “Our investigations have found over and over that distraction in any form can be dangerous behind the wheel.”

The Board also found that the limited sight distance at the crossing due to vegetation and roadway curvature and inadequate federal oversight of the trucking company contributed to the collision.

Falling through the cracks

The Board found that Alban Waste, the owner of the vehicle, demonstrated “a consistent and serious pattern of noncompliance” with federal motor carrier regulations from the time that the company registered as a carrier until the crash. It also found that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was aware of problems with Alban Waste but did not take adequate steps to ensure that the carrier complied with federal regulations, or, failing that, to prevent Alban Waste from operating.

“We continue to be concerned with FMCSA’s new entrant program,” Hart said. “Problem operators keep falling through the cracks.”

Foliage removed

The Board also found that a lack of oversight of private road/rail crossings poses a risk to the safety and health of motorists, train crews and train passengers, as well as to surrounding communities. After a second grade crossing at the Rosedale collision in August 2014, CSX Transportation took steps to remove foliage surrounding the crossing and install traffic control signs.

“Efforts to improve safety at private grade crossings have been inadequate,” Hart said, “We need states, railroads, and land-owners to address problems before serious collisions occur.”

As a result of this accident investigation, the NTSB made recommendations to the FMCSA, the Federal Railroad Administration, the state of Maryland, the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, the National Fire Protection Association, the National Sheriff’s Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, CSX Transportation and the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The full report is available here: http://www.ntsb.gov/doclib/reports/2014/HAR1402.pdf