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Death at Railroad Crossing Highlights Danger with Maintenance of Way Vehicles

A deadly railroad crossing accident in Gilroy CA last year involving a Union Pacific maintenance vehicle has raised serious safety questions about these type of vehicles traveling through crossings and whether they always trigger crossing gates and lights.

The man who died, Don Williams, 55, was driving through the railroad crossing in Gilroy at Masten Avenue when his truck was blindsided by a maintenance of way vehicle that weighed 50 tons. According to the state highway patrol crash inquiry, the UP vehicle did not activate the grade crossing gates or signal lights.

Investigations by the California Highway Patrol and the Federal Railroad Administration determined that the UP driver had operated the rig negligently and violated several UP company safety policies. A warrant is out for his arrest.

Beyond the tragic death of Williams, this accident highlights what some railroad safety experts say is a major flaw in the way in which maintenance of way vehicles and other rail vehicles operate on the nation’s railroads. That is, they do not always activate bells and gates at railroad crossings.

The railroad crossing in question does have bells and lights but it was not functioning when he crossed the tracks because the rig did not ‘shunt’ the track. The wheels of the vehicle did not make electrical contact, so when the driver came to the crossing, there was no warning for drivers.

The FRA states that this is a common problem. The agency released a new safety recommendation last week in light of William’s death. FRA advised all railroads to review their procedures for how maintenance of way vehicles go through crossings.

The new FRA recommendations note that the crossing activation system is unreliable and all maintenance of way vehicles must approach railroad crossings slowly. However, these are only recommendations and there are no current federal regulations for how these vehicles go through railroad crossings.

Also, the technology that is still used to detect trains today was first designed in 1872, and continues to be used across the country.

Our railroad accident attorneys in Virginia are greatly concerned that some maintenance of way vehicles do not properly trigger crossing gates and lights at railroad crossings. It also is alarming that a train engineer in this case apparently neglected his duties and proceeded through a railroad crossing with blatant disregard for safety.

There are cases where a railroad and its employees disregard public safety and should be sued in civil court for damages. This provides a warning to other companies and individuals to always put public safety first. An experienced railroad injury attorney can often win a large financial settlement in cases where the railroad obviously acted in a negligent fashion.