TILLEY, Alta. – Poor driver instructions and a lack of familiarity with the route were just two of the reasons why a tractor trailer collided with a freight train last year.
The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) released its final report on the incident which occurred in January 2013. The collision happened at a level crossing at Mile 50.61 of the Brooks Subdivision in Tilley, Alberta when the truck failed to stop at a railway crossing as an eastbound Canadian Pacific (CP) freight train was approaching.
The truck was a 2011 Kenworth W900 belonging to Ridgeview Transport (1990) Ltd. It was pulling a full 40 ft. 2005 Heil Tridem tanker trailer with a 30,000L capacity owned by Plains Midstream. The driver held a valid Alberta CDL and had current certification in Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG), Workplace Hazardous Material Information System (WHMIS) and Fundamentals and Hydrogen Sulphide H2S Alive. The TSB reports that “employees of Ridgeview Transport receive safety training from Plains Midstream, and attend safety meetings if they are to haul Plains Midstream products. The driver had attended at least four safety meetings per year since 2009, including a safety meeting two days before the accident.”
According to the TSB’s findings, the crossing was marked with standard reflectorized crossing signs (SRCS), the locomotive’s horn and bell were being sounded, and its head and ditch lights were on at full power, but the truck showed no signs of coming to a halt.
“Realizing that the tractor-trailer was not stopping, the train crew applied the brakes in emergency. The driver of the tractor–trailer did not become aware of the train until just before impact. The vehicle entered the crossing and was struck by the train just behind the cab on the driver’s side near the fifth wheel connection. The force of the impact caused the tractor to disengage from the loaded trailer. The cab of the tractor was propelled north of the main line track and the trailer was pushed to the south. The crude oil in the trailer ignited and engulfed both the tractor and the trailer in flames, resulting in extensive fire damage. The driver of the tractor-trailer sustained minor injuries and was taken to hospital for examination.”
Two crew members from the train were also injured. Both sustained their injuries while jumping from the locomotive’s platform to the ground 6 ft. below after the train finally came to a rest.
After conducting its investigation, the TSB said the accident was a result of a number of factors.
- The driver didn’t take the preferred route. In order to avoid having trucks haul loaded tanker trailers from the nearby Tilley transloading facility through residential areas, CP, the municipality and the transloading facility suggest drivers take a “preferred route” along Old Highway 1 (i.e. Township Road 172A, 171A, 173A). The driver involved in the accident, didn’t take that route as he was unfamiliar with it. He was also not briefed about any railway crossings. Instead, he took a different route of his own choosing.
- The driver was feeling pressed for time and was concerned about his entry into the facility. “For the chosen route, the tractor-trailer would have to negotiate an acute (40°) left-hand turn onto Township Road 172A almost immediately after clearing the crossing. As the driver approached the crossing, he was preoccupied with reaching the transloading facility in time to have his product offloaded and with the left hand turn beyond the crossing. Consequently, the driver did not stop at the passive grade crossing.
- The driver had limited visibility from his cab. The TSB writes: “Township Road 172 intersects the Brooks Subdivision at a 40° angle. For the northbound tractor-trailer, the angle of intersection at the crossing meant that the driver’s view to the west (i.e., scanning for eastbound trains) was outside his peripheral vision. Approaching the crossing or stopped at the crossing, the driver would have to lean forward to look left out the window. The view from inside the cab of the tractor-trailer that resulted from the acute angle of crossing made it more difficult to see the approaching eastbound train.”
- Insufficient warning signals. While the crossing was marked, the TSB says the warnings may not have been compelling enough to grab the driver’s attention. “On the day of the occurrence, the driver had traversed nine grade crossings prior to the accident. He had not encountered any trains, likely reinforcing the perception that a train would not be encountered in this instance. If there are no compelling audio or visual stimuli at grade crossings, and vehicle drivers are not expecting a train, they may not stop, increasing the risk of crossing collisions.”
- Inaudible train horn. As mentioned above, the train was sounding its horn, but that didn’t mean the driver could hear the warning due to the horn’s position on the train. “[T]he horn did not become audible to the tractor-trailer driver until just before the collision. The locomotive horn was positioned mid-way back on top of the locomotive and slightly recessed, ahead of the exhaust stack. For freight locomotives, this style of horn placement meets current regulatory requirements. Other TSB investigations have determined, however, that this particular style of locomotive horn placement is suboptimal. In addition, research conducted by Transport Canada indicate that horns mounted behind and close to the engine exhaust hood (i.e., mid-locomotive) performed much worse than those mounted in other locations on the locomotive.”
- Increased traffic at transloading facilities. “The transportation of liquid hydrocarbons has increased exponentially since the mid-2000s and this trend is expected to continue in the coming years. In Canada in 2009, about 500 carloads of crude oil were shipped by rail, while in 2013 there were more than 160,000. This dramatic increase in the shipment of liquid hydrocarbons by rail has led to an increase in truck traffic servicing transloading facilities. When the vehicle–train cross product increases, more robust crossing protection systems are often necessary to ensure the interface between vehicular traffic and trains remains safe. If an increase in the transportation of liquid hydrocarbons results in a higher vehicle–train cross product at public grade crossings, there will be an increased risk of crossing accidents.”
The TSB, however, didn’t put the cause of the collision solely on the driver’s shoulders. It also says there are other contributing elements.
The TSB says that after the accident, the trucking company suspended operations until all of its drivers:
- attended an Alberta Motor Transport Association Professional Driver Improvement course
- took part in two Plains Midstream rail crossing safety workshops.
Plains Midstream issued safety bulletins and held safety meetings in the wake of the accident.
In light of the TSB’s conclusions about the train horn effectiveness and because of its own earlier research, the TSB reports Transport Canada has “asked the Transportation Development Centre (TDC) to undertake a research project pertaining to the audibility of train horns. The aim of this research project is to analyse a horn’s effectiveness with the ‘long hood leading.’”
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