Use Caution at Railroad Crossings

While completing a research project on horse trailer accidents, Drs. Tomas and Rebecca Gimenez, clinicians in large animal emergency rescue, and USRider noticed an alarming trend of which they want to caution the public immediately. The Gimenezes studied more than 200 incidents involving horse trailers and noticed an inordinate number of accidents involving gooseneck horse trailers becoming stuck on railroad crossings. Almost all of these incidents resulted in losses of human and equine life.

"Being stuck on a railroad track is preventable and does not have to end in tragedy," said Mark Cole, managing member of USRider, a nationwide roadside assistance plan for equestrians.

"As the driver of a vehicle pulling a trailer, assume that any low-clearance caution signs before the railroad track are meant for you," said Dr. Tomas Gimenez, who is professor of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at Clemson University. "The placement of such warning signs will allow you to take an alternate safer route."

If you must cross railroad tracks, proceed cautiously, especially when the tracks are higher than the road grade. If your horse trailer becomes lodged on a railroad crossing, call 911 immediately, since emergency agencies can contact railroad companies and alert them of the situation.

Additionally, all humans and animals should be evacuated from the tow vehicle and trailer.

Evacuating the horses from the trailer serves two purposes. Obviously, it removes them from harm's way. Dr. Rebecca Gimenez said, "Unloading a horse in a potentially dangerous scenario such as this is going to make people as well as the horses nervous. Make sure your horses are good about loading and unloading from the trailer--this is not the time to be trying to train them. Also be sure to lead the horses a good distance away from the tracks to lessen the chance of them becoming spooked by other people, traffic, the tow truck, or a passing train."

In addition, evacuating the horses will reduce the weight in the trailer, which could raise the trailer enough to dislodge it from the tracks and enable it to complete the crossing safely.  

Cole explained, "From a practical standpoint, most railroad crossings are built up, making them slightly higher than the surrounding roadway. Therein lies the problem. When the truck tires pass over the railroad bed and start approaching the lower roadway grade, the rear tires can also be on the roadway grade on the other side of the tracks, causing the front of the gooseneck trailer to bottom out on the tracks."

While bumper-pull trailers are not as susceptible to this problem, it is very important to raise the jack stand to a level that will provide sufficient clearance and not bottom out in extreme situations.

The Gimenezes and USRider will release conclusions and recommendations from their safety study study to the public soon.

For more equine trailer safety information, please visit the USRider web site at www.usrider.org.

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