The Biloxi School District goes to great lengths to ensure its buses don’t get stuck on railroad crossings with steep inclines, and its buses avoid some intersections altogether, officials said one day after a charter bus got stuck at a railroad crossing and hit by a train.
The collision at Main Street and Esters Avenue left four dead and 34 injured.
The National Traffic Safety Board is among several agencies investigating.
District Transportation Director Sam Bailey said school bus drivers are required to avoid intersections with low clearance between the chassis of the bus and the tracks. His drivers never cross at the Benachi Avenue and Iris Street crossings, and they are particularly cautious with the intersection where the accident occurred, Bailey said.
The driver could have done all the things right, but it only takes a split second to miss a sign.
Biloxi School District Transportation Director Sam Bailey
School bus drivers are trained to keep several things in mind at every crossing:
▪ Length of the bus between the front and rear axles
▪ Clearance area below the passenger cabin
▪ Left-to-right visibility of the crossing
▪ Low-clearance signs
Drivers open their service door at railroad crossings for a couple of reasons.
“It’s not just for visibility,” Bailey said. “We want the drivers to ‘process’ the intersection. They need to be able to hear what’s going on. For instance, if they hear the bottom of the bus scraping the pavement, they need to be aware of that.”
In the event a school bus gets stuck on a crossing, Bailey said the first priority is to dislodge the vehicle. If that doesn’t work and a train is coming, the driver must evacuate the passengers.
Most of the passengers on Tuesday’s charter bus were senior citizens, which may have made a quick evacuation difficult, Bailey said.
Every commercial operator should also be aware of their bus’s clearance, and its distance between front and rear axles, Bailey said. They’re also usually trained to pay attention to low-clearance signs, which are posted where they can clearly be seen.
However, charter bus drivers can often be distracted by passengers — many of whom are tourists who have questions or comments, though it’s unclear if that’s what happened in this case.
“The driver could have done all the things right, but it only takes a split second to miss a sign,” Bailey said.
“I can only hope that the charter bus company takes steps to make sure this never happens again,” he said. “I would reassess every single railroad crossing on their routes. That is the protocol I would expect after something of this nature.”