The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has placed improved school bus/grade crossing safety on its list of “Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements.”
Although it’s relatively rare for a school bus to be involved in a train crash at a grade crossing, the results are often catastrophic.
In March 2000, a school bus was struck by a freight train at a passive grade crossing in Tennga, Ga., resulting in the deaths of three children and serious injuries to four other youngsters.
“Passive grade crossings are particularly dangerous because there are no active warning devices to signal that a train is approaching,” the NTSB wrote in its announcement. “Ensuring that drivers stop, look and listen at all grade crossings will help ensure the safety of the nation’s schoolchildren.”
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there are 246,000 grade crossings nationwide. Of those, 109,000 are passive crossings.
In 2002, the NTSB issued five safety recommendations to states in the wake of the Tennga tragedy.
1. Installation of stop signs at passive grade crossings that are traversed by school buses, except where installation would create a greater hazard.
2. Use of information about whether school buses routinely cross passive grade crossings as a factor in selecting crossings to upgrade with active warning devices.
3. A requirement that all newly purchased and in-service school buses be equipped with noise-reducing switches.
4. Enhanced school bus driver training and evaluation, including periodic reviews of onboard videotapes where available, especially with regard to driver performance at grade crossings.
5. Incorporation of questions on passive grade crossings in the CDL manual and examination.
The NTSB recently followed up on its recommendations and found that many states have not adequately complied with its program of safety initiatives. For example, the board reports that only six states have installed stop signs at passive grade crossings that are traversed by school buses. And only nine states require that new buses be equipped with noise-reducing switches.
Meanwhile, 31 states have enhanced their driver training program to include a component about grade crossings.
Note: The NTSB is an advisory agency only and has no authority to force other governmental entities to comply with its recommendations.