My Railroad Crossing Violation - DISMISSED!

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Travis M.'s Comment
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Very interesting and so glad it worked out for you.

It seems that area before a crossing has very slim margin for success if you're moving.

Lights flashing before you enter the Dilemma Zone? No problem come to a stop.

Come to a full stop before crossing? Great. Just make sure no train is within 15 seconds of triggering the crossing before trying to cross.

Approaching the crossing? Your analysis shows there is going to be a speed and distance where you can't stop and you can't get across before the gates start coming down.

My guess is that there is no margin for success other than always coming to a full stop.

That would mean that every crossing without stopping is rolling the dice.

Rob T.'s Comment
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There is a page in the trucking truth wiki about Driver disqualification that is very eye opening. I used the term suspended when I should have use disqualified with my incident. Keep in mind for those offenses listed it doesnt matter if it was in a CMV or your personal vehicle. Poor choices like speeding while driving your car can result in losing your CDL. Old school wrote a great article stressing Don't You Dare Miss That Sign. One thing not touched on is the difficulty you face of landing a driving job after you've lost your CDL. Not only do you have citations, but you didnt protect your license. It shows poor judgement on your end. What happens if you're an OTR driver that's on hometime when you're convicted? Your company now has the trouble and expense of retrieving their equipment from your home. Fortunately I'm a home daily driver and live only 25 miles from my terminal. If I became disqualified I would be moved into a different role I was qualified for, likely the warehouse. If convicted I planned on using my vacation time (4 weeks) to help lessen the blow financially. For an OTR driver that isnt an option. One of our longtime members lost their CDL because they had sugar in their urine which means diabetes. You can get your medical card with diabetes but it needs to be under control. That individual was left scrambling how to make ends meet and now ultimately is in charge at a warehouse as they work to get their health under control. In Iowa, if you have been disqualified or suspended for longer than 6 months your CDL is downgraded and you must take all tests again. That includes permit, pretrip, skills and road test.


Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.


A facility where trucking companies operate out of, or their "home base" if you will. A lot of major companies have multiple terminals around the country which usually consist of the main office building, a drop lot for trailers, and sometimes a repair shop and wash facilities.


Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.


Commercial Motor Vehicle

A CMV is a vehicle that is used as part of a business, is involved in interstate commerce, and may fit any of these descriptions:

  • Weighs 10,001 pounds or more
  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more
  • Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) not for compensation
  • Is designed or used to transport 9 or more passengers (including the driver) for compensation
  • Is transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placards


Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Wild-Bill's Comment
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That’s great news! Great Christmas and Birthday present. I was thinking about your situation this week so I’m glad you gave an update.

PackRat's Comment
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And happy birthday (today)! I'm not one to celebrate my bday but I think this one is great. Now I'm 30 =( I'm getting old!

Happy Birthday To You! STOLAT!

30 really is ancient! 34 more and you'll catch up with me. I just had mine two weeks ago.

DMF's Comment
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Rob, You have no idea how much I appreciate the detailed and thorough thoughts towards your investigation. Personally, when something gets in my crawl ... well lets just say, if your wife ever needs to vent, I will give you my wife’s phone number and they can commiserate.

Information is spot on, and very good to know. Only hope I will remember when needed. ... On the above, I am not kidding, I am going to show this to Michelle only to prove I am not the only one!

Rob T.'s Comment
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Approaching the crossing? Your analysis shows there is going to be a speed and distance where you can't stop and you can't get across before the gates start coming down.

My guess is that there is no margin for success other than always coming to a full stop.

That would mean that every crossing without stopping is rolling the dice.

That's why it's the LAW to slow down to ensure the track is clear. If I wasnt going so fast i would've already been slowing down I could've maybe got stopped, It's hard to say. Also if I hadnt slowed down immediately and instead kept going at the speed I was I would've likely cleared it. If I had been cited for "failure to slow down to ensure tracks are clear" theres no doubt in my mind I'd be found guilty. I clearly made a mistake and it's made more evident with this screenshot

0516454001576672208.jpg you can find data on any railroad crossing in the nation. The data for this crossing was 2 pages. In the bottom corner of this page it says Average Annual Daily Traffic is 5100 vehicles, 21% of which is trucks. This report is from 2012 but if theres roughly 1000 trucks that drive this route daily why have there not been more incidents? Odds are other drivers have been in a similar position as I was and made the correct decision. As a driver we make these decisions dozens of times every day. A light turns yellow in front you, do you have enough time to stop or are you going through? You have a split second to react to many different scenarios every day.


Operating While Intoxicated

Rob T.'s Comment
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I think alot of how this turned out legally is due to how I handled myself. I acted as a professional, took responsibility for it by calling it in and treated the deputy and Union Pacific maintenance with respect. I'm sure if I was a complete jerk I would have been given a citation that would stand in court. PJ had written a post about a Dot inspection he had that could have resulted in a violation but how he behaved made a difference in the end result. There are numerous stories here that talk about maintaining your professionalism and how you will get a better result with most people you deal with whether its shipper/ receiver, law enforcement or even people within your own company. I actually had somebody tell me they wouldn't have stopped if they knew they caused the damage wtf.gif . I called him an idiot (not so nicely), most companies have their names spread across the trailer and trailer number visible. This particular day I had an all red trailer with our grocery name across it in white. Most crossings have cameras and how many witnesses? You will be caught and the consequences are MUCH worse. In this instance, not only would I be disqualified for RR violation but now a hit and run. It is always best to take responsibility. The consequences usually will be less and you won't have the stress about worrying of them finding out who did it. there are cameras everywhere. I was upfront and honest with my safety director and he stood by me. How do you think it would've been handled if I didnt report it to RR or my company? As evidenced by several posts involving not reporting an incident in the past couple months I'd be out of a job and basically be black listed in this industry.

On monday after it was dismissed I went directly to him upon arrival back for the day and told him the good news. I also told him although I never want to deal with such a thing again I'm thankful it happened, it's a great learning experience and a reminder for all our drivers of how quickly we can have our livelihood taken from us.


The customer who is shipping the freight. This is where the driver will pick up a load and then deliver it to the receiver or consignee.


Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.


Electric Auxiliary Power Units

Electric APUs have started gaining acceptance. These electric APUs use battery packs instead of the diesel engine on traditional APUs as a source of power. The APU's battery pack is charged when the truck is in motion. When the truck is idle, the stored energy in the battery pack is then used to power an air conditioner, heater, and other devices

Rob T.'s Comment
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This will be my last update about this incident but I'll be more than happy to answer any questions now or in the future. After my interaction with the deputy I planned on letting her superiors know how great of a job she does regardless of what the outcome would be. I couldn't find anywhere on the sheriff's office webpage about compliments, only a section about complaints. I took the email address for the Polk County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) Office Of Professional Standard they want complaints sent to and sent the following under the subject Compliment - NOT complaint :

On November 10th Deputy ******* responded to an incident I was involved in. Despite being issued a citation i was very impressed with her professionalism and with her calm demeanor that helped me not be as nervous. It was my first time dealing with law enforcement in this way and she explained everything in depth to me to ensure I understood exactly what was happening, signing the ticket isnt admitting guilt and if I wanted to dispute it to be at court at the date and time listed. I hope to never do anything again that requires a response from law enforcement, but if I do I hope to encounter an officer or deputy like Deputy ********. I have no doubt at all if it's the PCSO that responds I will have a similar experience.

I just wanted to say thank you to Deputy ******, and every member of Polk County Sheriff Office for what you do to help ensure our safety. Regardless of the outcome I planned to reach out and be sure she gets credit for how well she represents the department and county but felt it be best to wait until the matter was resolved.

Thank you again, keep up the great work PCSO

this morning I got this response back :

Mr. T******,

Thank you for reaching out to us to let us know about the good job Deputy ******* is doing. Your comments are appreciated. If it wasn’t for communication like this, we wouldn’t fully realize the positive impact our deputies have in the community. Please know that a copy of this will be placed in Deputy ******* personnel file and the Sheriff will be informed as well.

Thanks again and hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

I censored the names for privacy reasons but unfortunately many people look at law enforcement as the "bad guy" and like most people I'm sure they like to hear that they're appreciated. They're in a dangerous job and probably get complaints all the time. Sure maybe i exaggerated a little bit, but she cut me a break and i felt it necessary to tell her thank you. Just like online reviews most people don't take time to say how satisfied they are but will immediately review something they're unhappy with. I'm guessing that for every 100 complaints they receive they probably only get a handful of compliments especially from the offender.


Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.


Operating While Intoxicated


Electric Auxiliary Power Units

Electric APUs have started gaining acceptance. These electric APUs use battery packs instead of the diesel engine on traditional APUs as a source of power. The APU's battery pack is charged when the truck is in motion. When the truck is idle, the stored energy in the battery pack is then used to power an air conditioner, heater, and other devices

PJ's Comment
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Very nice job Rob!!!!

Travis M.'s Comment
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Rob, I really respect the way you have handled this and the way you are conveying it to us. Really nice job and great attitude!

I know I'm over thinking this but railroad crossings make me crazy. Not becuase of trains. I love trains. Its the dang gates that drive me crazy.

This is just my thought process. I'm using the word "you" but I don't mean anyone in particular - and certainly not Rob specifically.

My conclusion here is that there is no warning like a yellow traffic light and that there are some no-win situations for truckers at railroad crossings. My goal is not to releive myself or anyone else of the responsibility to be safe or to avoid hitting crossing gates. I'm just thinking this through to find the boudnaries of decision making and operation.

Here are my thoughts...

It is illegal to "drive a vehicle through, around or under" a gate that is closed, opening or closing. I pretty sure we all want to avoid that - illegal or not. There is no minimum delay for the gates. Industry standard says the gates should start down WITHIN 3 seconds. The railroad has a vested interest to get those gates down as fast as possible. They must be fully down before the train arrives at the crossing.

In other words, there is no equivilant to a yellow light prior to a red. There is no room for judgement. There are many crossings where proceeding once the lights start flashing - no matter how close you are - present a good chance of making contact with the gate.

Minimal chance in a passenger vehicle so most of the world is OK with this.

Not so much for a truck.

Making contact with a gate should be handled differently than a crossing violation as it has nothing to do with obstructing the tracks or being close to hitting a train. It has everything to do with timing and the tradition of crossing signals. The designed delay is to protect the train, not the gates. Again, there is no designed delay to provide room for judgement like a yellow traffic signal. Only the delay to prevent bad luck from hitting the train.

Unlike passenger vehicles, we can't just go by the signal. If the lights start flashing, you better hope that you are right at the tracks going 30mph or better and have room to move to the middle. Or, that you are clearly outside the stopping distance for your speed. Any place in between and you're in trouble. We can't go by the signals.

Signals must be triggered with at least 20 second warning before the train arrives. Could be more depending on factors surrounding the crossing - determined by the railroad, not the community - things like speed of the trains, congestion, visibility, etc. Bottom line is that you have no way to know when an approaching train could trigger the signal.

With limited visibility, the safest way to cross is to stop/look/listen to be sure there is no train in sight. Think of all the crossings on rural 55mph roads obstructed by trees. If there is a curve with obsructions, it is possible that a train is just around the corner and could trigger the signals at any time.

Did I mention that gates drive me crazy?

If there is a clear view down the tracks in both directions, then higher speeds can be used. We are probably comfortable with judging the stopping distance at various speeds. The deciding factor is really how far down the tracks can we see.

Other than wide open country, there is usually a pretty big difference looking down the tracks through trees or buildings from 300 feet out (60mph, reaction time not included) or 20 feet out (15 mph). 30mph seems to be a sweet spot - with an 80 foot stopping distance, it has the quickest time to clear the tracks. (Due to the squared relationship to speed for stopping distance)

After that decision point, we might as well go for it even if it means crashing through the gates. Better than coming to a stop on the tracks in a panic (and probably still crashing into the gate).

If you're past the decision point and the lights start flashing, step on the gas - it couldn't hurt. In court, I would say, "I approached cautiously and observed that there were no trains in sight. There must not be sufficient delay between signal and gates as I was already into the crossing when the lights started flashing."

Whereever your decision point, you should be able to see down the tracks 2/3 to 1 mile in both directions to make your decision. If you can't see that far, then I would plan to do the full stop/look/listen and hope for the best. At least if the gates made contact, you could honestly say that you did all that you could have.


Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
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