The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is expressing a wide range of concern regarding motor carrier safety as well as oversight failures by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in its final report on a truck/train collision that occurred May 28 last year.
The agency concluded that a refuse truck driver distracted via the use of a mobile communication device failed to ensure railway tracks were clear at a Rosedale, MD, crossing – leading to a crash that derailed a 15-car freight train that subsequently exploded.
Among the recommendations the NTSB is making as a result of its investigation is to extend 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 may mislead people to believe that ‘hands-free’ is as safe as not using a phone at all,'' noted NTSB’s Acting Chairman Christopher Hart in the report. “Our investigations have found over and over that distraction in any form can be dangerous behind the wheel.”
The agency added that the limited sight distance at the crossing due to vegetation and roadway curvature and inadequate federal oversight of the trucking company involved – Alban Waste – contributed to the collision.
NTSB said that Alban 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 FMCSA was aware of problems with Alban but did not take adequate steps to ensure that the carrier complied with federal regulations, or, failing that, to prevent the carrier from operating.
"We continue to be concerned with FMCSA's new entrant program," Hart added. "Problem operators keep falling through the cracks."
NTSB also noted 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.
The agency added that after a second train/truck collision at the Rosedale grade crossing in August this year, 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 emphasized, "We need states, railroads, and land-owners to address problems before serious collisions occur."