Safety Tips

DOT Stops: Hazmat Regulations and Railroad Crossing Safety

Scot Barney
10 minutes

DOT Stops: A Look at Hazmat Regulations and Railroad Crossing Safety

The debate around the regulations governing Department of Transportation (DOT) stops for hazardous materials (hazmat) is ongoing. Currently, commercial vehicles transporting passengers or hazardous materials must adhere to a strict protocol at railroad crossings: stop, look, and listen. This rule has a few exceptions, notably when the crossing:

  • Features a functioning traffic control signal showing a green light.
  • Displays an “EXEMPT” sign.
  • Is under the control of a police officer or flagger.
  • Serves exclusively for streetcars or industrial switching.
  • Is marked as abandoned or out of service.

Also, I know that the crossing sign only has a picture of a drop-deck on it but maybe they didn’t have room to put a pony-motor trailer on there. If it looks steep, maybe find another way around.

What Exactly Is a Crossbuck?

The concept of railroad crossing safety has come a long way since the installation of the first mechanical railroad crossing signal in England around 1860. For decades, crossing attendants manned shacks, manually lowering cross guards to signal an approaching train. The "crossbuck," or the X-shaped RAILROAD CROSSING sign, combines elements of the skull-and-crossbones and a sawbuck, reflecting its warning role. The transition from manual to automated systems marks a significant evolution in rail safety, though the exact year the last crossing attendant was phased out remains elusive.

The Origins of Hazmat Regulation

Tracing the genesis of hazmat regulations leads us to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), established in 1887 in response to public outcry over railroad abuses. Initially focused on railroads, the ICC's jurisdiction expanded to encompass all common carriers (excluding airplanes) by 1940. In 1966, the ICC's safety oversight responsibilities were transferred to the newly formed DOT, with the ICC eventually being dissolved in 1995.

In the late 1800’s the dynamite and nitroglycerine industries were booming…, shipping accidents were relatively common, however, a pivotal moment for explosives transportation legislation appears to be the Pennsylvania Railroad yard explosion in Crestline, Ohio, on November 1, 1903. This catastrophic event, involving a railcar loaded with dynamite, resulted in significant loss and devastation, underscoring the urgent need for regulation. The aftermath painted a grim picture: extensive damage across the freight yard, with an explosion creating a crater 40 feet deep. Adjusting for inflation, the estimated $500,000 in damages in 1903 equates to about $18 million today, highlighting the scale of the disaster.

This historical backdrop sets the stage for understanding the critical importance of strict adherence to DOT stops and the comprehensive regulatory framework that governs the transportation of hazardous materials today. As we look at the complexities of hazmat regulation and railroad crossing safety, the overarching message remains clear: the simple act of stopping, looking, and listening at railroad crossings is not just a regulatory requirement—it's a fundamental safety practice that saves lives.


The Lima News 1903 Rail Explosion Article

Federal Register - Interstate Commerce Commission

Wikipedia - Interstate Commerce Commission

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