Final railroad crossing rule could force truckers to break other laws

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 9/26/2013

A federal rule intended to reduce crashes at railway crossings will have unintended consequences for truckers, OOIDA says.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration along with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration are set to issue a final rule in the coming days that prohibits a truck hauling hazardous materials from driving “onto a highway-rail grade crossing without having sufficient space to drive completely through the crossing without stopping.”

In comments to the agencies in 2011, OOIDA points out that the clearance space at railway crossings is often inadequate for trucks and that can leave a trucker with a precarious choice to break other traffic rules to comply with the crossing rule.

“This rule will have a direct effect on OOIDA’s members, small-business truckers who often unexpectedly find themselves at one of the 19,824 grade crossings where the clear storage space after a railroad crossing is less than 100 feet and sometimes even less than the length of the large trucks operated by these small-business truckers,” OOIDA President Jim Johnston stated during the rulemaking process.

“In such cases, these truck drivers may find it impossible to clear the railroad tracks without violating the traffic control device on the other side.”

The agencies responded to OOIDA’s concerns in the final rule, putting the responsibility on drivers to approach with caution.

“Admittedly, this may be difficult without knowing in advance all the crossings that may be along the route, the space around those crossings, and where there are traffic control devices and intersections that could result in a driver being forced to stop unexpectedly before clearing the track,” the agencies said.

FMCSA and PHMSA also suggest that truckers use new mobile phone applications that became available in June 2013.

“Users can also select from multiple base map features to see the crossing location, expand or narrow the buffer radius of a location, or get detailed information about a specific crossing,” the agencies suggest.

The agencies say the final rule will take effect 30 days after it posts in the Federal Register.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer says the agencies’ response to truckers’ concerns does not address the real-world problems faced at thousands of railroad crossings.

“The gist of where the agency is coming from is, ‘you’re on your own, guys,’” Spencer said.

“We understand that there are problems in areas where there are grade crossings. We understand there are issues with signage and things like that, but still, ‘you’re on your own.’

“We generally acknowledge that shippers and receivers are going to be aware of problems in these areas, but we don’t have any control over them, so we would advise you to check ahead. This is more of the same silliness we see coming out of Washington.”

Spencer said the agencies put a lot of faith in GPS applications being a substitute for preparation and training.

“We understand that GPS devices or apps may be of some value, but I suspect they are of less value than the FMCSA would like to believe and say they are,” Spencer said. “And the agencies have rules that say you better not be looking at this stuff when you’re operating a truck.”

“This is just one more of the issues that regularly pop up to underscore the absurdity of not having driver training requirements,” he said.

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