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Category Archives: Railroad Derailings

2015 Philadelphia Train Crash Caused by Distracted Engineer

The Amtrak engineer that ran a train off the rails outside Philadelphia in May 2015, which killed eight people, was most likely distracted by several radio dispatches, according to a source close to the federal investigation.

The engineer who was running Amtrak 188 informed federal investigators that he hardly could recall the moments before the late night crash. He added that he had a vague, dream like memory of the train going too fast around the curve and he hit the brakes at the train tipped over.

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Federal investigators found that in the minutes before the deadly crash, there were radio reports that another engineer’s windshield on another train had been hit by something, possibly a bullet. Investigators think that the engineer on Amtrak 188 was distracted by that radio dispatch, as well as a rock that hit his windshield at about the same time.

In addition to the eight who died, more than 200 were injured. Dozens of personal injury lawsuits have been filed so far, and Amtrak is not denying liability for the accident.

Our Virginia railroad crash attorneys hope that lessons are learned from this tragic train crash in Philadelphia. One of the things that could prevent future incidents is Positive Train Control, which would automatically slow down a speeding train that is entering a curve too fast. Of course, many railroads have opposed federal deadlines mandating the installation of Positive Train Control on all passenger trains.

One of our attorneys, Randy Appleton, recently wrote how absurd it is that railroads do not want to spend money on PTC, given the massive liability costs in a major train derailment. Hopefully, all railroads will install PTC in the near future and these types of tragic and fatal train crashes will be a memory.

 

 

Amtrak Derailment Kills Two in Philadelphia

Two people died today and 35 injured in an Amtrak train derailment near Philadelphia, when the train slammed into a backhoe that was on the tracks. The train derailed, with seven crew members and 341 passengers on board.

The train was traveling from New York City to Savannah, GA when the lead engine derailed in Chester PA at 8 AM on April 3.

Two men were on or near the backhoe when the train hit it and died at the scene. Both men were Amtrak employees.

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Passengers on the Amtrak derailed train stated that the crash between the train and backhoe caused a large fireball and smoke.

Investigators stated that it was not clear when the backhoe was on the tracks, but Federal Railroad Administration officials were on the scene and were studying the crash.

It is a shame that this entirely preventable train derailment led to loss of life and injuries. While we do not yet know what led to the tragedy, it is most alarming that the employees on the backhoe were Amtrak workers. Amtrak should be much better at communicating between oncoming trains and other company employees. How is it possible that the workers did not know that an Amtrak train was scheduled to come through that section of track at that time?

Amtrak will face multiple liability issues in this train derailment, both for the injuries to passengers and the deaths of these two workers. An experienced and tough railroad accident attorney will be able to ensure that the injured parties’ rights and those of the families of the deceased are properly represented and protected in upcoming litigation in this matter.

 

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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

 

Congress Passes Bill To Delay Train Safety Upgrades

After the deadly Amtrak wreck in Philadelphia earlier this year that killed five, some lawmakers wanted to see a speed enforcement system implemented right away. However, this week Congress passed a bill that will delay mandates for railroads to add such safety upgrades.

After the derailing in May, the CEO of Amtrak pledged to make the safety upgrades by the end of the year. However, the new bill will delay the upgrades for 3-5 years. Amtrak has stated that they will try to get it done in three years.

A congressman from PA stated this week that it is everyone’s best interest to delay the safety upgrades until it is possible to get them done safely and fully. He added that if Congress decided to penalize the railroad companies now, it would only lead to reduced rail traffic, which would only hurt consumers.

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It saddens us, as railroad accident attorneys, that this derailment ever occurred, and it’s even sadder that the necessary safety upgrades to prevent such tragedies are being delayed. We have seen all too many times how railroad companies will sacrifice public safety for profits. Some of these companies simply put the bottom line for shareholders above all else.

A recent case we handled was where a railroad conductor was hurt on a train car due to an insecure, loose side ladder. He had a serious back injury that required surgery, and he could not return to his job. Of course, the railroad denied they had anything to do with the injury. Our team argued that the loose ladder was a regulatory violation, so we did not have to produce any evidence that the railroad knew about the problem ahead of time.

Through the expert testimony of a railroad safety specialist, we showed that relevant safety appliance act regulations had been violated. We reached an $825,000 settlement.

 

Broken Rail Led to WV Oil Train Derailment, Officials State

By Randy Appleton, Virginia Railroad Accident Attorney

A West Virginia crude oil train derailment in February 2015 that caused a fire and forced several hundred people to leave their homes was due to a split rail, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) last week.

Two CSX rail inspections in December 2014 and January 2015 did not detect the defect in the rail before the derailment on Feb. 16. The FRA stated that broken rails are one of the top causes of railroad accidents. Railroads that move crude oil through communities  have to be as safe as possible, FRA stated that CSX, as well as other railroad companies, must be more careful in their inspection processes.

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FRA stated that it will mandate that CSX provides inspectors with more access to earlier inspection reports to prevent accidents in the future. FRA also stated that it will look at the need for better railhead wear standards to prevent such derailments.

FRA gave $25,000 fines to CSX and Sperry Rail Service, which is the company that did the inspections. A Sperry Rail Service inspector was reported to have seen the rail fault but declined to get out of his car to look at it.

The derailment outside of Mount Carbon WV caused 27 cars loaded with shale crude oil to fall off the tracks. The oil threatened to leak into local water supplies, and smoke from the large fire forced hundreds to evacuate their homes.

Our railroad accident law firm in Virginia is all too well accustomed to irresponsible train and railroad companies that neglect to ensure that their equipment is in proper working order. This often leads to derailments that cause serious injury. We once had a client whose train derailed, and his body hit metallic parts in the cab. After he left work, he went to the ER because he was having headaches as well as shoulder pain. He started to have headaches often and also tingling in his arms.

It turned out that the accident caused a spinal cord syrinx, which caused spinal fluid to collect beside the spinal cord. Our job was to convince a jury that the derailment led to the injury. It eventually was settled out of court for $190,000.

More Time Needed for New Train Safety Technology: Federal Report

By Randy Appleton, Virginia Railroad Accident Attorney

A new report issued by the Government Accountability Office this week states that Congress should allow more time for freight and passenger trains to install new technology that could prevent deadly train derailings, such as the Amtrak mishap last May that killed eight people.

Congress established a Dec. 31 deadline for rail companies to install new crash prevention technology, which is known as positive train control. This technology was developed in 2008, after a train accident in California that killed 25 people.

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The new GAO report found that most railroads will not meet the end of the year deadline. It noted that there have been delays in the installation of the systems. For example, the technology is still being developed and there are only a few suppliers. Also, the federal government has added to the delays. One reason is that railroads had to cease construction on railroad tracks with radio poles because there had been no environmental evaluation process.

The report further noted that the Federal Railroad Administration did not provide enough oversight. It took the FRA seven months to review the initial safety plan that was turned in from a railroad.

Railroads that do not have positive train control could have federal fines and other punishments if they do not have the new technology by the end of the year.

Our railroad injury law firm in Virginia applauds the efforts to improve train safety across the country with the installation of positive train control technology. It is likely that if that technology had been on board the Amtrak train last May, the train could have been slowed down enough automatically to avoid tragedy.

Anyone who has suffered a serious injury from a train derailment usually benefits from speaking to a personal injury attorney. We had a $60 million derailment settlement a few years ago after a train derailed and severely injured a man in his workplace.

 

Railroad Track Was Set for Replacement Day After VA Derailment

By Richard Shapiro, Virginia Railroad Accident Attorney

A section of railroad track that was owned by CSX in Lynchburg, Virginia (VA) was set to be replaced – the day after a crude oil trail derailed and broke out in flames.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued this report in late August into the derailment, which occurred on April 30, 2014. The Lynchburg oil train derailment required the evacuation of hundreds of people from downtown.

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The NTSB still has not determined the precise cause of the wreck, but should by the end of 2015.

NTSB documents state that the derailment happened at a break point in the track, which means that the rail section was cracked or severed. The break was only a few inches from a repair that was made in January 2014.

The day before the oil train derailed, an inspection of the track section showed there was an internal flaw in that same rail piece. So, CSX planned to replace a 40 foot section of the rail, which was going to be installed on May 1, 2014.

The derailment is one of about nine oil train derailments that have happened in North America since 2013. The biggest and most tragic was the derailment in Lac Megantic, Quebec in July 2013 that killed 47 people.

In Lynchburg, 17 oil tank cars derailed, with three plunging into the James River and one caught on fire.

Our Virginia railroad accident law office has extensive experience in train accidents and derailments, as well as railroad crossing accidents that were due to train engineer or railroad company negligence. These often preventable mishaps can lead to injury and loss of life, although we are glad the Lynchburg incident resulted in no injuries.

We have represented workers who have been injured by railroad company negligence in the past, such as a CSX conductor who was exposed to asbestos fibers in his work for decades. That case resulted in an $8.6 million verdict.

We hope that CSX and other companies in the industry will put a better focus on safety – both for the safety of the public and the environment.