TORONTO - The sheer force and weight of trains and heavy trucks trying to cross the tracks at the same time can be deadly and dramatic. There's an average of 40 such collisions a year. The toll? Up to four dead, as many as eight seriously injured each year, and property damage that can reach $10 million in a flash.
The number of collisions between heavy trucks and trains is a fraction of the accidents involving commercial vehicles on the highways.But some 20 per cent of the truck-train collisions result in a train derailment, and more than half those collisions take place at public crossings already equipped with flashing lights and bells.
One positive result of such developments? Canada's trucking and railway industries have agreed to work together in a concerted attempt to determine the root cause of the problem. The objective? Reduce, at least, and eliminate, if possible, the factors that put public safety, and both modes' capital and human resources in such extreme danger.
Dan Di Tota, national director of the non-profit public education program Operation Lifesaver, said today "the transportation industries agree on the need and the potential to make a difference.'
"A volunteer working group has been assembled, including representatives of for-hire and private transport fleets, owner-operators, and the railways; Quebec, Ontario and federal governments, police, national and provincial safety councils, to tackle the issue head-on," he said.
"Ontario, Quebec and Alberta have been selected initially to help us focus our effort, because of the volume of commercial traffic involved and associated higher risk in those jurisdictions," said Mr. Di Tota. "Progress will be tracked. The program will be adjusted as required, and content adapted as warranted."
Truck driver safety awareness training material for tractor trailer operators has been produced, including a safety guide, tip sheet, video, driver instructor's guide, student notes and quiz. Trucking companies, trucking associations and truck driver training schools have all agreed to help make the material as widely available as possible.
The official launch of the initial orientation and information/ training session will occur in cooperation with the Ontario Trucking Association in Toronto on June 21.
Brian G. Adams, President of the Truck Training Schools Association of Ontario (TTSAO) said: "Our organization fully supports the initiative on highway/railway crossing safety currently being undertaken by Operation Lifesaver and its partners. We feel that this critical area of truck safety is now being properly addressed, and the training community needs to fully understand the ramifications of sharing the road with other forms of transport."
Other training and information sessions are being organized with the help of regional Truck Driver Training Councils and transportation clubs. The Ontario and Quebec Ministries of Transportation have already offered to post information on the program on their web sites.
The training packages are being distributed through the Alberta Safety Council, and are already targeted for use by Economy Carriers and Mullen Trucking in their own training programs.
"By sharing our information on an on-going basis, we can use it for educating our staffs, raising the profile of the problem and, in time, making a difference in highway-rail crossing safety," said Roy Craigen of Edmonton, team leader with the ECL Group of Companies' special commodities division.
The Teamsters union has also initiated a special effort in Saskatchewan by organizing an educational session for all Canadian Teamster trainers for drivers of dimensional loads' - traffic that can take longer than normal to safely cross the tracks.
"Truck-train weight and braking distance comparisons are particularly enlightening for this group," said Steve Harvey, who represents Operation Lifesaver, Direction 2006 and GO Transit in these safety-related programs. "A tractor trailer rolling at 90 km an hour needs 90 metres to stop. A freight train traveling 90 km an hour takes up to 1,600 metres to stop.'
"A soft drink can weighs four-tenths of a kg; a car, 1,400 kgs; a tractor trailer, 36,300 kgs, and a freight train, six million kgs," he said. "That gets them interested. He has already run some classes for driver trainers to test the program content and reaction to it. "What the driver trainers really like is that the package is self-contained. They can use it immediately."
"The material has been well-received, particularly the video footage of a train pushing a tractor trailer as just so much dead weight, snapping off poles along the track. That got their attention," said Mr. Harvey. "It's important for truck drivers to know their route, and to really know the size of their rig. They don't want over-hang on a railway track, and neither do we!"
"Any motor vehicle collision has tremendous effect on the lives of those involved," said Ron MacIntyre of the Ontario Safety League. "Although the number of instances involving trucks and trains is low, the size and weight involved have devastating results. I am very impressed with the involvement of so many organizations and the tremendous commitment that all are putting forth to support this initiative."
Operation Lifesaver is the national public safety program sponsored by Transport Canada and the Railway Association of Canada that works in partnership with provincial safety councils, police, unions, railways and community groups. It already has an excellent track record.
An extra public/private initiative Direction 2006, has broadened the partnership, conducted research and introduced new educational and public information resources, tools and technology to cut crossing collisions and trespassing incidents in half by the end of 2006.
Truck/Rail Working Group
Dan Di Tota
Ontario Trucking Association
416-249-7401 # 225
Canadian Owner-Operators Co-Op
Ontario Safety League
905-666-1305 # 231
ECL Group of Companies
Railway Association of Canada