To enhance the safety of horses and those who travel with horses, USRider (a nationwide roadside assistance plan) is working with the Doctors Tomas and Rebecca Gimenez, experts in large-animal emergency rescue, on a research project to gather and analyze data about horse trailer accidents (Hot on the Trail, May/June '06). Conclusions and recommendations from this study will be released to the public soon.
However, while studying more than 200 horse-trailer incidents, the researchers noticed an inordinate number of incidents involving gooseneck horse trailers becoming stuck on railroad crossings, and want to caution the public immediately. Almost all of these incidents resulted in the loss of human and equine life.
"Most railroad crossings are built up, making them slightly higher than the surrounding roadway," said Mark Cole, managing member of USRider. "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."
To prevent a tragedy, "assume that any low-clearance caution signs before the railroad track are meant for you," advised Tomas Gimenez, DVM, 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, said Dr. Gimenez, proceed cautiously, especially when the tracks are higher than the road grade. If your trailer becomes lodged on a railroad crossing, call 911 immediately; emergency agencies can alert railroad companies of the situation. Evacuate all humans and animals from the tow vehicle and trailer. This will not only remove them from harm's way, but will also reduce trailer weight, which could raise the trailer enough to dislodge it from the tracks and enable it to complete the crossing safely.
While bumper-pull trailers are not as susceptible to this problem, rasie the jack stand to a level that will provide sufficient clearance and not bottom out in extreme situations. For mor trailer-safety information, visit www.usrider.org.