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August 04, 2011  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Time to Update Your Route Hazards Inventory?

As evidenced by the infamous Fox River Grove crash, documenting school bus route hazards is critical. Detailed, accurate route descriptions are essential, and drivers must be involved in the documenting process.

by Derek Graham

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When was the last time you surveyed bus routes for safety hazards?

Some of us remember the 1995 accident in Fox River Grove, Ill., not just as the worst school bus-train crash in recent memory, but for the circumstances and a key contributing factor: an undocumented route hazard.

Telling the story
One of the recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) is to advise members of the circumstances of the Fox River Grove accident. The more pupil transportation providers understand and educate drivers about that crash, the better the chance of preventing similar tragedies.

According to the NTSB report, the school district’s assistant director of transportation was driving the route (for the first time), because neither the regular bus driver nor the regular substitute was available.

After doing a proper stop-look-listen at the railroad crossing, the driver looked ahead to a traffic signal. The driver thought that it was necessary to cross the tracks in order to “trip” the traffic signal from red to green. This was not the case, and, in fact, the regular drivers knew not to cross the tracks until the light was green.

The hazard, known to the regular drivers on the route, was that a bus waiting at the light extended about 3 feet into the path of a train. Seven students lost their lives.

Route hazards
Another recommendation from NTSB to NASDPTS: “Encourage your members to develop and implement a program for the identification of school bus route hazards.”

A report was published for the industry in June 1998. It is available at (click “Operations” and then “Routes and Stops”) to provide guidance on incorporating hazard identification into pupil transportation operations. The report leads transportation providers through the following sequence:

• Develop a list of potential fixed route hazards.

• Implement a specified procedure for conducting on-site reviews of routes.

• Create a means of informing drivers of the presence of route hazards.

Technology tools
Consider the basics to get started every morning: Drivers need keys and their CDL. But, in the interest of safety and efficiency, they also need a good, accurate route description. It must contain basic stop sequences. It also must contain the information relied on by a substitute driver. This includes text that, no matter how routine it seems, the sub has a need to know in order to safely drive the route.

Most school bus routing is now done with computer assistance. And the computer tools make it much easier to stay on top of route hazard documentation and education. Tell the computer the issue and the computer tells the driver. Can it really be that simple?

To answer that question, we turn to NASDPTS Supplier Council members who work with computer routing every day. There are many more capabilities in place than there were in 1995. The industry clearly responded following the Fox River Grove crash.

Routing software providers EDULOG, Trapeze and Tyler’s Versatrans include the ability for users to designate hazards at particular locations so that they will show up in printed route descriptions.

Jason Corbally of EDULOG relates a district’s efforts to use this capability to note stop signs at the top of blind hills.

John Fahey of Tyler’s Versatrans points out a feature that allows districts to produce a single report on all bus routes that pass by a given hazard location.

Steve McKinley of Trapeze emphasizes the importance of storing road hazard information globally for the district, not having to maintain the list route by route.

As a further example of how these data can be used, in North Carolina we report to our state Department of Transportation the number of times per day that a school bus traverses a railroad crossing — including the number of student passengers on board at each crossing. The Department of Transportation uses this information in prioritizing equipment upgrades. All this by running some automated reports!

Beyond pure route hazards, a New Mexico client of software provider Transfinder points out other hazards for students, having provided important information about sexual predators residing around bus stops and schools. We’ll explore that topic in more detail in a future article.

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