As investigators continue to piece together the events leading to a North Carolina collision between a tractor-trailer and a passenger train, one question stands out: Why didn’t the trooper escorting the over-sized truck contact dispatchers to notify them the truck was essentially stuck on the railroad tracks?
Reports are the truck was on the tracks for somewhere between 5 minutes and 20 minutes before the passenger train approached. Once impact occurred, it was so forceful, it knocked the Amtrack train off its wheels. Thankfully, no one was killed, but one of the passengers, aged 85, was seriously injured.
Every year, North Carolina State Troopers escort between 400 and 500 oversize trucks across the state. In this case, the truck was hauling electronic gear from a suburb of Raleigh to New Jersey. The full weight of the 165-foot vehicle was estimated at nearly 130 tons. The total length was longer than half a football field. In fact, this truck was so large it was actually twice the length of the train engine. While the front end of the truck was blocking a highway intersection, the back end of it was blocking the nearby tracks.
Railroad crossings often have blue posted signs, as this one did, offering the contact number for railroad dispatchers in an emergency. One phone call to that number, warning of the impending obstruction, could have circumvented the entire accident, officials say. The trooper, however, was just a few feet away.
But while common sense would seem to dictate such action is necessary, our Winston-Salem truck accident lawyers understand the law isn’t clear-cut.
Carriers hauling over-sized loads or moving over-sized trucks have to retain a permit through the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which requires an escort, most often, someone in law enforcement. Sometimes two escorts are required – one at the front and another at the rear – and the goal is to warn other motorists of a large load, and to keep other vehicles at a safe distance from that load. Ultimately, the goal is safety.
Troopers who serve as truck escorts have to undergo a training session and they have to read through a safety manual. Completion of these will result in certification.
However, representatives with the DOT and the state highway patrol were quick to point out it is the driver of the large vehicle who is in charge of the whole operation. The primary function of the escort, both agencies say, is to give warning to other drivers of the large approaching vehicle. There is nothing in the law that says an escort has to do anything else – including call an emergency railroad dispatch line.
But again, one could make a strong case that the trooper owed a duty of care to those passengers on that train to take action in light of a foreseeable danger caused by the truck’s location on the active railroad tracks. According to media reports, the trooper was assisting the trucker in navigating a sharp turn at an intersection that was approximately 80 feet away from the railroad crossing. It was a particularly difficult maneuver, and the truck driver was having a tough time with it.
When the flashing warning lights on the tracks indicated an approaching train, the driver didn’t have enough time to move his truck. The train was carrying 212 passengers, plus eight crew members.
The resulting crash was the third major train crash in the country in less than two months. Earlier crashes in February – one in California and one in New York – resulted in seven deaths and 30 injuries.
Contact the North Carolina car accident injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Road Worrier: NC unclear on trooper training, duties for big-truck escort, March 16, 2015, By Bruce Siceloff, Raleigh News & Observer
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