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2.12 Railroad Crossings

Railroad crossings are always dangerous. Every crossing must be approached with the expectation that a train is coming. Follow these safety precautions:

  • Do not rely solely upon the presence of warning signals, gates, or flagmen to warn of approaching trains.
  • Never attempt to race a train to a crossing. It is extremely difficult to judge the speed of an approaching train.
  • Reduce speed in accordance with your ability to see approaching trains in any direction, and maintain a speed that will allow you to stop short of the tracks if a stop is necessary.
  • Because of noise in the cab, you cannot expect to hear the train horn until the train is dangerously close to the crossing.
  • Double tracks require a double check. A train on one track may hide a train on the other track. Look both ways before crossing. After one train has cleared a crossing, be sure no other trains are near before starting across the tracks.
  • Yard areas and grade crossings in cities and towns are just as dangerous as rural grade crossings. Approach them with as much caution.
  • A complete stop is required at a grade crossing when:
    • The nature of the cargo makes a stop mandatory under state or federal regulations.
    • Such a stop is otherwise required by law.
  • Railroad crossings with steep approaches can cause your unit to hang up on the tracks.
  • Never permit traffic conditions to trap you in a position where you have to stop on the tracks. Be sure you can get all the way across the tracks before you start across.
  • DO NOT shift gears while crossing railroad tracks.

2.13 Mountain Driving

Gravity plays a major role in mountain driving. On any upgrade, gravity slows you down. The steeper the grade, the longer the grade, and/or the heavier the load, the more you will have to use lower gears to climb hills or mountains.

In coming down long, steep downgrades, gravity causes the speed of your vehicle to increase. You must select an appropriate safe speed, then use a low gear, and use proper braking techniques. Plan ahead and obtain information about any long steep grades along your planned route of travel. If possible, talk to other drivers who are familiar with the grades to find out what speeds are safe.

You must go slow enough so your brakes can hold you back without getting too hot. If the brakes become too hot, they may start to “fade.” This means you have to apply them harder and harder to get the same stopping power. If you continue to use the brakes hard, they can keep fading until you cannot slow down or stop at all.

Speed

Your most important consideration is to select a speed that is not too fast for the:

  • Total weight of the vehicle and cargo;
  • length of the grade;
  • steepness of the grade;
  • road conditions; and/or
  • weather.

Test Your Knowledge

  • You should use low-beams whenever you can. True or False?
  • What should you do before you drive if you are drowsy?
  • What effects can wet brakes cause? How can you avoid these problems?
  • You should let air out of hot tires so the pressure goes back to normal. True or False?
  • You can safely remove the radiator cap as long as the engine is not overheated. True or False?

Study sections 2.8 through 2.11 if you can't answer all of these questions.

If a speed limit is posted or there is a sign indicating “Maximum Safe Speed,” never exceed the speed shown. Also, look for and heed warning signs indicating the length and steepness of the grade.

You must use the braking effect of the engine as the principal way of controlling your speed. The braking effect of the engine is greatest when it is near the governed RPMs and the transmission is in the lower gears. Save your brakes so you will be able to slow or stop as required by road traffic conditions.

Be in Right Gear Before Starting Down Grade

Shift the transmission to a low gear before starting down the grade. Do not try to downshift after your speed has already built up. You will not be able to shift into a lower gear. You may not even be able to get back into any gear and all engine braking effect will be lost. Forcing an automatic transmission into a lower gear at high speed could damage the transmission and also lead to loss of all engine braking effect.

A good rule for older trucks is to use the same gear going down a hill that you would need to climb the hill. However, newer trucks have low-friction parts and streamlined shapes for fuel economy. They also may have more powerful engines. This means they can go up hills in higher gears and have less friction and air drag to hold them back going down hills. For that reason, drivers of modern trucks may have to use lower gears going down a hill than would be required to go up the hill. Know what is right for your vehicle.

Brake Fading or Failure

Brakes are designed so brake shoes or pads rub against the brake drum or disks to slow the vehicle. Braking creates heat. But brakes are designed to take a lot of heat. However, brakes can fade or fail from excessive heat caused by using them too much and not relying on the engine braking effect.

Brake fade also is affected by adjustment. To safely control a vehicle, each brake must do its share of the work. Brakes out of adjustment will stop doing their shares before those that are in adjustment. The other brakes can then overheat and fade, and there will not be enough braking available to control the vehicle. Brakes can get out of adjustment quickly, especially when they are used a lot; brake linings also wear faster when they are hot. Therefore, brake adjustment must be checked frequently.

Proper Braking Technique

The use of brakes on a long and/or steep downgrade is only a supplement to the braking effect of the engine. Once the vehicle is in the proper low gear, the following is a proper braking technique:

1. Apply the brakes just hard enough to feel a definite slowdown.

2. When your speed has been reduced to approximately 5 mph below your “safe” speed, release the brakes. (This brake application should last for about 3 seconds.)

3. When your speed has increased to your “safe” speed, repeat steps 1 and 2.

Example: If your “safe” speed is 40 mph, you would not apply the brakes until your speed reaches 40 mph. You now apply the brakes hard enough to gradually reduce your speed to 35 mph and then release the brakes. Repeat this as often as necessary until you have reached the end of the downgrade.

Escape Ramps

Escape ramps have been built on many steep mountain downgrades. Escape ramps are made to stop runaway vehicles safely without injuring drivers and passengers. Escape ramps use a long bed of loose soft material to slow a runaway vehicle, sometimes in combination with an upgrade.

Know escape ramp locations on your route. Signs show drivers where ramps are located. Escape ramps save lives, equipment and cargo. Use them if you lose your brakes.

Be familiar with the stop requirements at railroad tracks.
Shifting on the tracks may be grounds for an automatic fail on the driving exam. Your entire truck (truck and trailer) must clear the crossing before you're able to shift. They may ask about this on the written exam as well.

Make sure you fully understand the meaning of "Brake Fade" as this will come up many times. You don't necessarily have to memorize anything, rather, you simply need to understand the concept. If brakes are used excessively, or are out of alignment, they will heat up. As they heat up, their braking power is reduced, requiring more brake application for the same effect until eventually the brakes have no stopping power.

Brake Fade: The reduction in stopping power that can occur after repeated or sustained application of the brakes, especially in high load or high speed conditions.

The below list should be memorized. Questions referencing this list are common on the written exam.
As you can see, this phrase keeps coming up over and over again throughout the course. Always slow down and be in a correct gear before the downgrade!
Brake fade is a serious issue in the real world and so, you'll need to be familiar with brake fade and what causes it for your exams.
This example is very important. You must understand what a "Safe Speed" is. Not only are you required to know this for your exams, but it will be used in real-world driving conditions anytime you are in mountainous terrain.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

Review Questions - Click On The Picture To Begin...

Why should you be in a lower gear BEFORE starting down a hill?
  • All of these are reasons to select a lower gear before starting down a hill
  • You will lose all engine braking effect while shifting gears
  • You may not be able to shift into a lower gear once speed has already built up
  • Forcing an automatic transmission into a lower gear at high speed could damage the transmission and also lead to loss of all engine braking effect

Quote From The CDL Manual:

Be in Right Gear Before Starting Down Grade - Shift the transmission to a low gear before starting down the grade. Do not try to downshift after your speed has already built up. You will not be able to shift into a lower gear. You may not even be able to get back into any gear and all engine braking effect will be lost. Forcing an automatic transmission into a lower gear at high speed could damage the transmission and also lead to loss of all engine braking effect.

Next
If your "safe speed" is 40 mph, which of the following is incorrect regarding proper braking technique?
  • All of these answers are correct
  • At 40 mph you apply the brakes hard enough to gradually reduce your speed to 35 mph
  • Release the brakes once you reach 35 mph
  • You would not apply the brakes until your speed reaches 40 mph

Quote From The CDL Manual:

Proper Braking Technique - The use of brakes on a long and/or steep downgrade is only a supplement to the braking effect of the engine. Once the vehicle is in the proper low gear, the following is a proper braking technique:

1. Apply the brakes just hard enough to feel a definite slowdown.

2. When your speed has been reduced to approximately 5 mph below your "safe" speed, release the brakes. (This brake application should last for about 3 seconds.)

3. When your speed has increased to your "safe" speed, repeat steps 1 and 2.

TruckingTruth's Advice:

This braking technique is used in the real-world. While on a decline, you should set a specific "safe speed" such as 40mph. As your speed increases, you should depress the brake pedal and quickly (but safely) slow down to 35mph (5mph below your safe speed). Once you reach 35mph, release the brakes until you reach 45mph (5mph above your safe speed) and repeat the process. By releasing the brakes, you give your brakes time to cool, avoiding brake fade.

Prev
Next
What is a good way to determine which gear you should be in for a downhill grade?
  • Use the same gear or lower gears than what was needed for the uphill grade
  • Drivers should wait until they are about 1/4 of the way down the hill before deciding which gear to use
  • Downhill grades should always use 5th gear or lower
  • Use the same gear or higher gears than what was needed for the uphill grade

Quote From The CDL Manual:

Be in Right Gear Before Starting Down Grade - Shift the transmission to a low gear before starting down the grade. Do not try to downshift after your speed has already built up. You will not be able to shift into a lower gear. You may not even be able to get back into any gear and all engine braking effect will be lost. Forcing an automatic transmission into a lower gear at high speed could damage the transmission and also lead to loss of all engine braking effect.

A good rule for older trucks is to use the same gear going down a hill that you would need to climb the hill. However, newer trucks have low-friction parts and streamlined shapes for fuel economy. They also may have more powerful engines. This means they can go up hills in higher gears and have less friction and air drag to hold them back going down hills. For that reason, drivers of modern trucks may have to use lower gears going down a hill than would be required to go up the hill. Know what is right for your vehicle.

Prev
Next
Many commercial vehicles are equipped with an engine brake to help slow down without applying the service brakes. When is the engine brake most effective?
  • At high RPMs with the transmission in a high gear
  • At high RPMs with the transmission in a low gear
  • At low RPMs with the transmission in a low gear
  • At low RPMs with the transmission in a high gear

Quote From The CDL Manual:

You must use the braking effect of the engine as the principal way of controlling your speed. The braking effect of the engine is greatest when it is near the governed RPMs and the transmission is in the lower gears. Save your brakes so you will be able to slow or stop as required by road traffic conditions.

Prev
Next
The following are reasons why brake fade occurs except:
  • Excessive braking on a downgrade
  • Overheating brakes
  • Moisture on the brake pads
  • Brakes which are out of adjustment

Quote From The CDL Manual:

Brake Fading or Failure - Brakes are designed so brake shoes or pads rub against the brake drum or disks to slow the vehicle. Braking creates heat. But brakes are designed to take a lot of heat. However, brakes can fade or fail from excessive heat caused by using them too much and not relying on the engine braking effect.

Brake fade also is affected by adjustment. To safely control a vehicle, each brake must do its share of the work. Brakes out of adjustment will stop doing their shares before those that are in adjustment. The other brakes can then overheat and fade, and there will not be enough braking available to control the vehicle.

Brakes can get out of adjustment quickly, especially when they are used a lot; brake linings also wear faster when they are hot. Therefore, brake adjustment must be checked frequently.

Prev
Next
A complete stop is required at a railroad crossing when:
  • Commercial vehicles only need to stop at railroad crossings without gates
  • Stopping before a railroad crossing is never allowed
  • All commercial vehicles are required to stop at all railroad crossings
  • The nature of the cargo makes a stop mandatory under state or federal law

Quote From The CDL Manual:

A complete stop is required at a grade crossing when:

  • The nature of the cargo makes a stop mandatory under state or federal regulations.
  • Such a stop is otherwise required by law.
Prev
Next
What is brake fade?
  • When brakes on one side of the vehicle wear faster than brakes on the other side of the vehicle
  • When brakes heat up, you have to apply them harder and harder to get the same stopping power
  • As brakes cool down, you have to apply them harder and harder to get the same stopping power
  • The natural wear and tear on brake pads

Quote From The CDL Manual:

If the brakes become too hot, they may start to "fade." This means you have to apply them harder and harder to get the same stopping power. If you continue to use the brakes hard, they can keep fading until you cannot slow down or stop at all.

Prev
Finish
Please select an option
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