The recent accident in Nevada involving a tractor-trailer impaling the California Zephyr so far leaves more questions than answers. And It serves no useful purpose to speculate.
The Reno Gazette Journal filed one of the more complete accident accounts on their web site, including new video of the aftermath. The Journal keeps this page updated, so even though I posted on the 27th, the Journal has the latest available information.
Sadly, Amtrak conductor Laurette Lee, 68, was among the fatalities.
Ms Lee came from a railroad family. Her great-grandfather and grandfather worked on the railroad. Her brother is an Amtrak dispatcher. And her nephew an Amtrak conductor. The San Francisco Chronicle filed an in-depth article on Ms Lee and her love of railroading.
Statistics reveal that of the unpleasant encounters annually between rail and motor vehicle, 23% involve motor vehicles running into moving trains.
Those who keep accident statistics refer to these as "RIT" - Running into Trains.
For the most part, RIT's occur during hours of darkness, often exasperated by poor weather such as fog, snow, or rain.
As early as 1991, testing began on the Alaska Railroad and Norfolk Southern, to determine how retroreflective materials could increase the visibility of rolling stock.
In 1996, the FRA sponsored a study conducted by the University of Tennessee to explore various reflector patterns (colors and configuration) to improve the nighttime conspicuity of trains.
This study concluded that:
- A standardized retro reflector pattern is beneficial to train recognition.
- The pattern should be made of red and white reflectors.
- The pattern should not be confused with roadway signs or reflectors from other objects such as trucks.
- The pattern should communicate the size of the rail car through outlining or an even distribution.
As a result of these studies, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, issued a ruling - FRA 224 - in 2005, requiring retroreflective material on the sides of freight rolling stock, freight cars and locomotives.
Under the ruling, the mandatory schedule for applying reflectorization stipulates that all freight cars and locomotives must be reflectorized by May 31, 2015.
You may have noticed that even highway trailers have similar reflective patches. This is designed to delineate a trailer as it goes through an intersection, or when passing a trailer on the highway.
The National transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will do what it does and issue its findings in due time. Although they did issue a preliminary statement on Monday (June 27th):
There was a warning signal 897 feet before the crossing. The truck driver apparently slammed on his brakes, starting a skid mark on Highway 95 northbound that stretched 320 feet up to the tracks.
The truck was headed north on the road, which crosses the tracks at about a 45-degree angle. The road has a posted 70-mph speed limit. The truck could have required as much as 465 feet to stop if it was going the speed limit, according to widely used estimates.
The cab of the truck became stuck in the passenger car and was carried about half a mile down the tracks, where the train finally came to a rest.
And the American Trucking Association has released this statement:
"We were saddened by the tragic crash near Reno, Nev., last week and our sympathies go out to all those affected by it. With the trucking industry now operating as safe as it ever has, these incidents remind us there is certainly more to do.
American Trucking Associations has long been a supporter of efforts to educate commercial drivers, as well as the general motoring public, about the risks associated with railroad crossings and the importance of complying with warning lights and signals.
Sadly, reflective material could not forestall an accident happening on a beautiful sunny day, at a well-marked crossing, with virtually unlimited visibility.