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Yearly Archives: 2015

Track Defects and Human Error Cause Most Train Accidents

A new study of federal rail records has found that most train accidents are due to track problems and human error, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Some of those accidents and derailments have involved oil trains, but rather than focus on rail improvements and engineer training, US regulators continue to focus on beefing up tanker cars instead.

After several dozen crashes, derailments and oil spills in the last few years, rail authorities in Washington DC have enacted new regulations that will make oil tanker cars more robust. While this is seen as a good thing by many, the oil tanker cars themselves do not cause most of the accidents.

According to the former director of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Brigham McCown, the first responsibility of the government and rail companies should be to prevent the accident in the first place.

The study conducted by the newspaper in Columbus OH found the following:

  • 1/3 of train crashes in the last 20 years were at least partly due to track problems, including splits in the rail or a bad joint.
  • About 1/3 of the crashes were due to human error. These errors include an engineer nodding off as the train flies past a stop signal, or a worker not setting a brake properly.
  • Most of the other accidents reported to the Federal Railroad Administration were due to mechanical, electrical and signal issues.

The study stressed that as more trains are moving more oil by tanker car across the US, there should be a greater emphasis on improving train worker training, as well as beefing up rail line inspections by the Federal Railroad Administration. Railroads say that they are investing in better rail inspection technology, and also are purchasing better detectors that are installed along tracks.

While our rail accident attorneys based in Virginia appreciate the federal government’s efforts to improve oil tanker cars, it should be demanding that railroad companies enact tougher rail inspections. It also should pass new regulations that toughen training standards for all train engineers.

Railroads will always try to minimize their costs in any way possible, either on rail safety or in pay outs to victims in personal injury lawsuits. They always need to be closely regulated to ensure safety of the public.

We once had a $60 million verdict involving a Norfolk Southern train that derailed and smashed into a gas station, which led to severe and permanent injuries for our client. After a year of denying responsibility, the railroad finally admitted its culpability in the tragedy.

It took a lot of work on our part to get that verdict, but that is sometimes what it takes to get railroads to admit their role in derailments. Hopefully, tougher regulations on rail safety and engineer training in the future will reduce the likelihood of these types of accidents.

 

 

 

 

More Passengers File Lawsuits Against Amtrak

A Philadelphia law firm stated this week that it will seek punitive damages in lawsuits filed for six more passengers in the deadly Amtrak derailment last May.

The law firm, Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, stated that the complaints that were filed in federal court will be consolidated with others that were filed earlier this year.

The law suits allege that the accident could have been avoided if better safety precautions had been implemented by Amtrak.

Eight people died and 200 were hurt in the May 12 derailment. The train entered a curve at double the 50 MPH speed limit.

Last week, Amtrak announced that it had activated a new safety system on that part of the track. The system is called positive train control or PTC. It is a complex package of equipment and communications upgrades that monitor and control speeds of trains and locations to prevent collisions and derailments.

Anyone who has suffered an injury in a train derailment will have a lot of questions about how to proceed in the legal sphere. Our team of railroad accident lawyers has handled many train derailment personal injury cases in the last 30 years. One of our lawyers wrote a leading treatise on railroad health and safety that sits in most major law libraries.

We also reached a $190,000 settlement in a case where our client was an employee in train transportation service, and the train derailed. Parts of his body hit the train, and he started to have headaches and tingling in his right arm after the accident. The case was tough to settle but with our tenacity and experience, we were successful.

We have written two excellent legal guides on railroad worker injury law that could be useful to you if you have a loved one who has been injured in a train accident. You can download these helpful railroad injury guides here.

 

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Union Pacific to Proceed

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled this week that a wrongful death lawsuit should proceed in the case of a 13 year-old Schuyler NE boy who was killed by a passing train in 2005. The 3-2 decision overruled the decision made by Colfax County District Judge Mary Gilbride; she dismissed the lawsuit in favor of Union Pacific Railroad.

The case involves the death of Efrain Ramos-Domingo, who died on July 27, 2005. He was struck by a Union Pacific train as he and some friends rode their bikes over double tracks in Schuyler. The boy waited for the eastbound train to pass before he rode into the path of the westbound train on the next set of tracks.

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The wrongful death lawsuit alleges that the railroad was negligent because the noise of the first train at the crossing prevented the boy from hearing the next train.

Evidence in court showed that the westbound train that killed the boy was going 59 MPH, and hit the boy 7 seconds after the eastbound train had passed. This meant that the boy’s view of the second train was obstructed until three seconds before he was hit.

Evidence on the train’s black box recorder also showed that the horn on the train stopped sounding at least two seconds before the train entered the crossing area. Federal and company rules mandate that the train’s horn must sound for at least 15 seconds before entering the crossing and should continue as the engine passes through the crossing.

The Supreme Court found strong evidence that the railroad did not operate the crossing safely. One of the judges wrote that Union Pacific had a duty to sound the horn as the train approached the crossing. The failure to do so was strong evidence that Union Pacific was negligent, Judge John wrote.

We are very sorry to read about the needless death of this young man, but as Virginia railroad accident attorneys, we know how common railroad crossing accidents are. In many cases, injuries and deaths at these intersections could be prevented if the railroads were more diligent in honoring their obligations to the public.

For example, one of our partners once took a deposition from several railroad workers in a case where a man driving a truck was killed at a train crossing. Our investigation showed that there were no stop signs or railroad cross bucks at this crossing.  Also, the railroad employees stated that they did not know that they had a legal obligation to blow their train’s whistle at the crossing. How is it possible that a full time train engineer did not know this? Previous VA court decisions established that the railroad must sound its whistle at any railroad crossing, public or private. Yet the employees had no idea that they had this vital duty.

This shows that sometimes railroad workers are not properly trained to safeguard the public, and this can lead to deadly tragedies. Anyone whose loved one died at a railroad crossing should be aware that there are strict state and federal rules regarding the duties of the railroad that operates those tracks. Sometimes the railroad fails, and they should be held legally accountable.

 

Warren Buffett’s Railroad Helps to Delay Train Safety Measures

After an Amtrak train derailed last May in Philadelphia, which killed eight people and injured dozens, it appeared that the railroad industry’s efforts to delay the installation of safety technology on all passenger trains was at an end.

However, under pressure from Warren Buffett’s BNSF Railway Company, the US Congress passed another law that delayed the implementation of positive train control safety measures for at least 36 months.

This technology would automatically slow a train if it were going too fast, such as on a curve.

amtrak

Therefore, railroad companies can delay buying and installing safety equipment that likely could prevent accidents such as the derailment in Philadelphia.

The argument by Buffett’s company and other railroad industry advocates was this: If the positive train control technology mandate was not delayed, railroads would purposely slow how they do business due to liability concerns. Their rationale was that if a railroad missed the deadline to install new safety equipment, that company would face serious liability issues because they would be operating outside of law. So, the railroads would then decline to carry both passengers and commodities. They also would not deliver products that are classified as hazardous materials, including ones that are important to US commerce, such as ammonia and chlorine needed for water treatment plants.

BNSF spent almost $4 million to lobby Congress to slow down the safety equipment mandate.

Our railroad accident law firm is hardly surprised that railroad companies have teamed up to delay the implementation of vital safety technology that would save lives. One of our lawyers, Randy Appleton, recently wrote about how money spent to upgrade railroad safety systems is tiny compared to what a major train crash costs.

Appleton wrote that 20 year installation, testing and maintenance costs for positive train control could be as much as $24 billion. However, how much money does it cost when there is a major train derailment that kills and injures scores of people? How much emotional trauma, pain, disabilities, lost wages and loss of work is there when there is another crash?

Our firm’s position is that rail companies should install positive train control as soon as possible to reduce the chances of future accidents.

FRA Pushes for Fast Upgrades to Train Safety Systems

The head of the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) promised to be aggressive in urging railroad companies to install newly mandated safety systems as soon as possible, even though Congress moved the deadline back to 2018. 

The safety system is called Positive Train Control or PTC, and was supposed to be operating nationwide by the end of 2015. Its widespread use could prevent terrible derailments such as the Amtrak crash last May that killed eight people in Philadelphia. Railroads were behind schedule, so Congress decided to give them three more years to install PTC.

The FRA head, Sarah Feinberg, urged this week that railroads should not delay until the last possible moment to install PTC. She urged them to make it their goal to be first across the goal line. She added that the public deserves the added safety features as soon as possible.

The rail administration stated that it will have additional details on how it will approach the new PTC deadline in the coming weeks.

Train derailments are often completely avoidable tragedies that could have been prevented if the railroad had done proper maintenance on equipment and had followed all federal rules and regulations.

Our train accident legal firm worked on a derailment of an Amtrak train in 2000 in South Carolina where a street sweeper jumped a street curb and went up the CSX train tracks and damaged the tracks. An Amtrak train came along and hit the street sweeper, resulting in a derailment that injured passengers and employees.

amtrak

Our legal team went to work on this very complex derailment case. We studied the damage to the sweeper and we brought in an accident reconstruction engineer. We also did a land survey, took measurements and pictures of the accident scene and much more to build our case.

Our theory was that a lack of a full ballast section allowed the sweeper to hit the cross ties and metal rail of the train tracks. Eventually, we proved that the track damage that led to the derailment would not have occurred if the ballast section had not failed to meet the specifications of CSX.

This case went through two appeals, and eventually CSX and Amtrak paid to settle this very complex case. While the street sweeper did have some liability for the accident, poor safety and maintenance on the part of the railroad companies did contribute to the accident.

The rail administration stated that it will have additional details on how it will approach the new PTC deadline in the coming weeks. The railroads collectively advised Congress that they would have to “shut down” unless the deadline for positive train control was extended. While we find it hard to believe that this doomsday scenario would have ever occurred, the railroads convinced lawmakers that there was no feasible way to implement the law by the end of this year.
There are two sides to every story, but it seems like Congress and the federal Railroad administration should have required milestones or concrete steps that the railroads were required to meet by certain deadlines but it does not appear the new extension has required that. One thing is for sure: based on statistics alone there will be some avoidable railroad to derailments and collisions over the next several years that could have been prevented by the implementation of positive train brake control systems.

Needless to say, we strongly support all railroads installing vital safety equipment to prevent derailments – as soon as possible.

 

Ohio Man Dies in Rail Crossing Accident

A man died in Huron Township OH on Nov. 24 after a train smashed into his car at a railroad crossing. 

The man was driving a 2008 Ford van on Rye Beach Rd. in Huron Township when he approached the railroad tracks south of SR 2. He tried to skirt the railroad crossing gates when a Norfolk Southern train slammed into it.

crossing

The train pushed the vehicle 1/2 mile down the tracks before it could stop. The man died at the scene.

Police said that it appeared that the crossing gates were working, but the crash is still being investigated.

All too many deadly accidents occur at railroad crossings across our country. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed at a railroad crossing, it is vital to have as much information as possible.

For instance, did you know that there are many strict federal regulations that apply affecting the responsibilities of train crews and railroad companies? These duties include providing adequate warnings that train crews must sound at railroad crossings at proper intervals.

Federal regulations also set maximum speeds for specific sections of track. Regulations also dictate when a horn and/or whistle must be sounded at crossings. There also are strict regulations regarding the maintenance of proper sight lines at railroad crossings; shrubs and vegetation must be cut so that drivers can see oncoming trains.

Our Virginia railroad accident attorneys possess an excellent knowledge of pertinent state and federal laws that are in play in rail crossing accidents. We also contract with retired railroad workers who often investigate the circumstances and accident scene at specific crash sites. Such diligence in our investigations has led to sizable settlements in some railroad crossing accidents. In some of these incidents, we were able to prove that adequate warnings were not provided by the train crew.

Railroad crossing accidents are often complex, and it takes a highly experienced team of personal injury lawyers and railroad experts to ensure that all regulations were followed by the crew and railroad company. When they are not, sizable legal settlements can and do happen, which can help a seriously injured person recover from devastating injuries.

Tired BNSF Employees Complain About 12 Hour Shifts

Some BNSF Railway workers in Whitefish, Montana are warning that they are working 12 hour shits that compromise safety. They claim that the long shifts can lead to extreme fatigue that could cause dangerous situations when hauling hazardous commodities.

One BNSF employee told the media that the company had started a new schedule that has workers working for 12 hours per day, and sometimes for 6-10 days straight.

rail va

That employee stated: “Such a safety sensitive job for engineers and conductors running trains that are up to 17,000 tons, hauling hazardous materials and such.” He added that these tired workers are at work more than at home anymore, and that the railroad is putting its profits.

About 40 employees attended a town hall gathering last week in Whitefish MT, and discussed ongoing problems with the general manager of BNSF in Montana. The major concern by the workers was that the work days are too long with not enough rest.

Some employees talked about having to work long shifts over 12 hours while they waited for the relief crew to show up. Other workers talked about the new system of scheduling that leaves workers unsure which day it is, and which shift they will be covering that day. One employee added that the workers go to the job fatigued and that it is a serious safety issue.

BNSF Railroad spokesperson Matt Jones stated that the company had changed its work scheduling in Whitefish, but that the changes do not affect safety. He noted that hours of service have not altered at all, and that the maximum number of hours worked and required rest periods are set by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Still, worker fatigue is a serious concern, given that it has been found to be the cause of several recent railroad crashes in recent years.

Our railroad accident attorneys are not surprised that BNSF may be pushing the limits on workers so they can make more money. We have worked on many cases in the last decade where rail companies have cut corners that compromised safety in the name of money. Our team has assembled a helpful guide on the Unique Legal Rights Available to All Injured Workers. This could be a helpful guide for you if you are a railroad worker injured on the job.

Safety Improvements Underway at Deadly TN Railroad Crossing

Work is currently underway at a deadly railroad crossing in Harriman, Tennessee that was the site of a deadly crash that killed two people in 2014.

In May 2014, a car was struck by a train at the crossing of US 27 and Mountain View Rd. in Harriman. Several safety improvements were announced early this year, which were funded by a federal grant.

Now at the crossing there are new warning signs, wider pavement and striping further back from the railroad tracks to warn drivers of the danger.

A Roane County supervisor stated that there are two more signs that will be added, as well. The changes were entirely due to the 100% federally funded grant.

crossing

The changes made were based upon a study done by the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the railroad. Engineers studies the number of trains and cars that pass through there, the chances of a crash, speed and visibility for drivers.

Our railroad accident legal team has worked on cases with serious personal injuries and deaths that have occurred at public railroad crossings throughout the US. If this ever happens to you, it is important to know about the different federal regulations that affect the duties and responsibilities of the railroad crew that is running the train. These duties include respecting the warnings that trains have to issue when they are coming close to a crossing.

For example, railroads usually set a maximum speed for trains, and federal regulations do as well. Federal regulations also specify when the horn and whistle have to be blasted at a railroad crossing. Also, regarding trees, shrubs and vegetation, there are federal rules on that as well. They specify the details about sight lines that should be available to drivers at railroad crossings.

We have represented motorists who have been injured in railroad accidents, and know it takes a great deal of experience to know if it would be advisable to file a personal injury claim in such an accident. We also have worked on derailments that caused injuries to railroad workers.

In some railroad crossing accidents or deaths, when there are no “active” warnings such as lights or gates, there a wide spectrum of safety issues that must be evaluated.  In many tragic railroad crossing deaths, there is no evidence whatsoever that a driver was trying to “beat the train,” contrary to the argument that railroads often advance.  Only a careful analysis of the safety of the crossing can answer these liability questions, and it requires objective expert analysis, and this analysis should be done as soon as possible to try to replicate the sight lines that both the train crew and motorist had.  In many crossing cases, the railroads rush to alter the scene with slight modifications, and this can include cutting back foliage/vegetation among other subtle changes.  If you or a family member suffers a railroad crossing crash, consult with one of our experienced railroad attorneys as soon as possible to assure that the evidence is preserved.

 

20 Year Anniversary of School Bus-Train Crash Remembered

It was 20 years ago on Oct. 25 that a horrifying collision between a Chicago commuter train and a school bus in Fox River Grove IL at a railroad crossing led to the deaths of seven students.

Since then, there have been a number of safety improvements at railroad crossings across the US, but accidents can and still do occur.

Some of the changes at railroad crossings include more traffic signals at crossings, better connections between traffic signals and warnings on trains. Also, there are more signs and markings on pavement to warn drivers and pedestrians to get off the tracks quickly.

It was at 7 am on Oct. 25, 1995 when a Metra train out of Chicago, which was operated by Union Pacific Railroad, smashed into the rear of a school bus at a grade crossing at Algonquin Road in Fox Grove IL.

The bus had crossed the tracks and was stopped for a traffic signal at a road right next to the road. The crossing gate came down on the bus and the engineer on the train blew the whistle, but the bus driver claimed she never heard these warnings.

crossing

The end of the bus was approximately three feet over the tracks when the train smashed into it.

In a report a year later, the National Transportation Safety Board had criticism for how buses were being routed and the general oversight of the bus drivers.

The NTSB also said that the intersection design was improper, and the warning and traffic signal interaction also led to the crash. The NTSB further recommended more rigorous grade crossing inspections and guidelines so drivers better know if their vehicle is in the path of a train.

Since the crash, there have been no more such incidents in IL, but there have been situations where buses were stuck on tracks because the crossing gates came down improperly.

Our railroad accident attorneys are glad that there have been safety improvements on railroad crossings, but serious injuries and deaths still do occur. We settled a train crossing accident case in Prince William County VA when a freight train hit the rear of a car with two small children inside. Neither child was killed but both suffered head and other injuries.

The driver of the car claimed that he could not see the train until the last second. We eventually demanded a settlement for our client – the mother – from the driver and Norfolk Southern, for $133,000.

 

 

Families of Canada Train Derailment Victims Sue Railroad

A lawyer who represents most of the families of the 47 people who died in an oil train derailment in Quebec two years ago said last week that a Canadian railroad’s refusal to pay into a settlement fund is ‘reprehensible,’ and the families will sue the railroad.

Canadian Pacific states that it does not have any responsibility for the disastrous, fiery wreck in Lac Megantic Quebec in July 2013. It is blaming the derailment on the railroad whose train derailed.

Federal-Employee-Liability

That Chicago-based attorney stated that Canadian Pacific knew that the oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region was very unstable, before it handed it off to the other railroad.

Much of the downtown area of Lac Megantic was left in ruins when a train that was operated by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway with 70 oil tankers. It derailed on July 6, 2013 and set off several explosions and blazes. The company in Maine has filed for bankruptcy, and the settlement fund is wrapped into those bankruptcy proceedings in Canada and the US.

Wrongful death lawsuits have been delayed until the settlement is approved; it is valued at $339 million US. Judges in Quebec and Maine have approved the fund; it includes $110 million Canadian to settle all of the wrongful death claims.

Canadian Pacific will not contribute to the fund and has opened itself up to many lawsuits. If it had contributed, it would have been offered legal protections.

We are sad to see that Canadian Pacific will not accept liability for this tragic train derailment. As railroad accident lawyers, we have experience with railroad companies trying to protect profits over people.

Our law firm was proud to represent a gas station worker that was seriously injured when a Norfolk Southern Train derailed and smashed into his store. He was left with serious traumatic injuries and a traumatic brain injury.

His first lawyer wisely reached out to our law firm to handle the railroad related liability aspect of the case, and we entered the case as co-counsel to jointly try the case in Manassas, Virginia. We not only helped prove the railroad was negligent, we helped to win him a $60 million verdict, later settled for a confidential sum.