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Virginia Rail Express Adding Safety Technology to Rail Lines

Work is continuing in Virginia to install Positive Train Control (PTC) onto railroad tracks that experts say could have prevented many recent, fatal train accidents, such as in Hoboken, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Virginia Rail Express (VRE), a popular commuter rail line in the state and in the metro Washington DC area, stated in early March 2017 that it is on track to have all trains and cab cars outfitted with PTC in the next few months. 

VRE trains are on CSX and Norfolk Southern tracks in Virginia, and Chief Executive Officer of the VRE, Doug Allen, stated last week that the commuter rail line is working with both rail companies to get PTC done.

Allen noted in a press conference that VRE is installing radios and computers, which communicate constantly with the systems being installed on all tracks. Once the system is fully operational, it will be able to stop or slow a train automatically to avoid a train crash or train derailment.

Several recent train crashes on the East Coast have highlighted the need for PTC.

In May 2015, an Amtrak train was going too fast on a curve near Philadelphia. Eight people were killed. In September 2016, a New Jersey Transit train crashed in the Hoboken commuter station, killing one. Many experts believe the train accidents could have been prevented with PTC.

VRE wants to start testing the new PTC systems by September 2017, and hopes to have the system up and running by next year.

Rail operators and rail companies have until Dec. 31, 2018 to have PTC fully operational. 

Our View

Our personal injury and wrongful death attorneys in Virginia are pleased that positive train control is soon to be fully operational on all VRE trains in the Commonwealth. PTC can likely prevent many serious train accidents and derailments that kill and seriously injure many people nearly every year.

Our personal injury rail road accident law firm has handled lawsuits where a train derailed and led to catastrophic personal injuries. Our law firm and co-counsel represented a gas station worker who suffered a traumatic train injury when a Norfolk Southern train derailed and crashed into his workplace.

The man suffered many serious, orthopedic  injuries and brain damage. The train crash verdict was $60 million with interest, and we were proud to get that case resolved so the victim could get the medical care he needed.

If PTC can prevent those types of disastrous train crashes, the system will be entirely worth the cost.

 

BNSF Railroad Pleads for US Government to Pay for Life Saving Train Technology

A leading freight railroad has been urging Congress to pay for passenger railroad companies to install positive train control or PTC on all passenger trains. 

BNSF Railway has been one of the leading companies promoting the use of PTC, a technology that will slow a train down automatically that is going over the speed limit.

PTC will eventually be required by law for all freight trains. But BNSF says that the efforts for more train safety will be futile if passenger and commuter trains do not have the same technology; all of the various types of trains share the same tracks.

BNSF is actively urging Congress to fund PTC for commuter rail services. The head of BNSF told Congress this month that he fears that a crash will happen where a freight train has PTC but the passenger train does not.

Congress first gave commuter and freight trains until Dec. 31, 2015 to install PTC. This advanced GPS technology can prevent derailments, collisions, crashes and improper train switching.

But railroads struggled to meet the deadlines and lawmakers gave them until the end of 2018 to comply. However, recent train crashes in New Jersey and elsewhere have increased pressure on stakeholders to get PTC done as soon as possible.

Freight trains are getting PTC installed faster than commuter trains. BNSF recently tested 35,000 PTC segments in the last 60 days, and 85% of them had no problems.

Our View

Our railroad accident attorneys have long been advocates of PTC. The idea of positive train control has been around since 2008 when a Metrolink crash in California killed the train operator and two dozen others. In that terrible train crash, the operators was texting a friend on a cell phone, which caused him to run a red light, and tragedy resulted.

President Bush signed a law that would require all railroads to implement PTC systems by the end of 2015. Now the deadline is the end of 2018. We hope it is installed before then because the Federal Railroad Administration states that the system could prevent up to 52 accidents each year.

The new system is expensive and will present both time and financial challenges for railroad companies. But the fact is that the technology will save lives. Also, major freight companies are largely on schedule with PTC. Commuter and passenger trains are lagging, but perhaps with some federal help, they will be able to meet the 2018 deadline as well.

If so, many tragic train crashes, personal injury lawsuits and wrongful death lawsuits could be avoided.

Exiting FRA Chief Hopes Technology Will Save More Lives

Ex-Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Chief Sarah Feinberg was in the job for only weeks in 2015 when a commuter train slammed into an SUV stopped on the tracks just north of New York City. Six people died in the train crash.

That Feburary 2015 train crossing accident highlighteed a problem that has been with the railroad industry for more than a century: the danger when railroad tracks and roads meet.

PTC could prevent many train derailments and crossing accidents.

Feinberg was a former Obama White House advisor who did not have railroad industry experience, and her appointment got plenty of criticism. She sought a new way of thinking regarding keeping the country’s 240,000 railroad crossings safe. Signals, signs, lights and bells are useful, but what if better technology could prevent many railroad crossing accidents?

Fenberg, who left the job as FRA commissioner with Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, truly tried to embrace her outsider status in the railroad industry.

In a recent interview, she said that she tried to hold railroads accountable when they did wrong. She also said that she had the FRA aggressively policy safety violations; the agency was able to close cases at a higher rate and collect more fine money each year than previous commissioners.

Progress After Tragedy

After the New York City commuter train tragedy, another train derailed near Philidelphia, killing eight. Feinberg pushed railroads to install positive train control (PTC) technology that would use GPS navigation systems to automatically slow trains if one was getting into a dangerous situation.

The technology had long been avaialble, but railroads had slow walked adopting it due to the cost. The industry convinced Congress to delay PTC implementation until 2018, but Feinberg fought back and would not accept any more delays. PTC will begin to be installed in 2018.

Feinberg hopes that the next FRA commissioner will continue to push for new technologies to reduce the number of train crashes and derailments each year.

Our View

Our train crash personal injury attorneys in Virginia are glad that ex-FRA Commissioner Sarah Feinberg was such a strong advocate for PTC technology. Our attorneys have been advocating for this technology for years. There is no doubt that PTC can reduce the number of deadly train crossing accidents and derailments that happen every year.

Our railroad crash attorneys know very well the terrible consequences that can unfold in a train derailment. We worked on a record-setting $60 million verdict in a train derailment case in 2000. It involved a gas station attendent who was severely injured when a Norfolk Southern train derailed and crashed into his station.

PTC could prevent those types of tragic railroad accidents, and that is why we so strongly support it.

Long Island Train Traveled at Double the Speed Limit Before Crash

A Long Island Railroad commuter train that crashed in Brooklyn on Jan. 4 was traveling at double the speed limit when it slammed into the train station. More than 100 people were hurt, according to federal investigators. 

The train was going more than 10 miles per hour when it smashed into the end of the tracks at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. The speed limit there is five miles per hour. The NTSB is continuing to investigate the crash and has not yet determined the final cause.

The train smashed into a bumping block during the morning rush hour. The train then hit a room beyond the railroad track and caused two cars to derail.

The engineer who was operating the train said that he could not recall the crash. Investigators stated that the engineer was very experienced, having started in 1999 at the railroad. He had started working at midnight and was near the end of his shift.

The NTSB noted that positive train control was not in place on the tracks where the crash happened. This is an automatic train safety control system operated by GPS that can slow trains automatically to avoid hazardous situations. PTC could have been installed on these particular tracks but they have not been.

Our View

Our railroad personal injury attorneys have long said that we want to see commuter rail lines in the US fitted with PTC as soon as possible. However, railroads have lobbied congress to delay implementation of PTC until 2018 at least. We hope that this technology is speeded up and installed on commuter lines and trains immediately.

When trains have safety problems and derail, the injuries can be terrible. We once represented a man who suffered massive brain injuries when a train in Hampton, Virginia derailed. It slammed into his gas station. The man’s family chose our firm because of our experience in handling major train derailment accidents. We were glad to have gotten a verdict for the man of $60 million, but we would like to see these railroad derailments never happen again.

 

 

Deadly Arkansas Train Collision Caused by Engineer Fatigue

A fatal crash and derailment between two Union Pacific trains in Arkansas on Aug. 17, 2014 was the result of a tired engineer and conductor who were likely both asleep on at least one of the trains, according to federal investigators this month. 

The dual train crash happened in Hoxie, Arkansas, and the NTSB reported that it could have been prevented by positive train control (PTC), a form of automatic braking operated by GPS, which Congress has mandated to be in place by 2018.

The train crash in Arkansas derailed 55 cars and killed a total of two people  – both crew members on different trains.

The NTSB stated that the southbound Union Pacific train hit the northbound train as it was turning onto another track. The southbound train passed two warning lights and a red signal, but did not slow down. There was no activity in the cab of the train before the wreck.

The board did not find the northbound train at fault. Several people on that train were seriously injured.

The engineer in the northbound train had moderate sleep apnea that was diagnosed in 2010.

Our View

We wrote about this fatal train crash in Arkansas when it happened. Our Virginia and North Carolina train crash attorneys have long been baffled that railroads have delayed the installation of PTC on their trains. PTC would automatically stop a train before it can run a red signal or get into another situation that endangers human life.

The Federal Railroad Adminsration states that PTC could stop 52 train crashes each year. We hope that railroads will implement PTC before the 2018; it will save lives.

Our personal injury attorneys are experienced in wrongful death and personal injury claims in train accidents. The need for robust state laws involving personal injury recoveries could not be more demonstrated by nationwide railroad highway grade crossing crash cases. While the federal laws provide for it national railroad system, when persons are harmed or killed in railroad crashes, the state laws system supplies the right of recovery for persons that suffer injuries caused by negligence.

 

 

Hoboken NJ Train Engineer Had Undiagnosed Sleep Disorder

The engineer running a New Jersey Transit train that slammed into Hoboken Terminal in September had a undiagnosed sleep disorder, according to his attorney this week. 

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The engineer, Thomas Gallagher, recently discovered that he had severe sleep apnea. The test results that confirmed the disorder were sent to federal authorities on Oct. 31.

Gallagher stated that he did not remember the crash at all, and he believes that the sleep disorder may have led to the accident that killed one and injured more than 100.

His attorney stated that the engineer believes that the sleep disorder caused him to black out just before the crash. Gallagher said that he remembered checking his speed as he should just  before pulling into the terminal, blowing the whistle and ringing the bell. The next thing he remembered, he was on the floor of the engine after the accident.

The train smashed into the station in the middle of a busy morning commute. The person who died was on the train platform and was struck by debris. Other commuters also were injured by flying debris, and some passengers on the train also were injured.

Undiagnosed sleep apnea can be a serious danger for professionals who operate trains, trucks, airplanes or other commercial transportation. The condition involves pauses in breathing during sleep, which causes the person to wake up. This can lead to excessive sleepiness during the day.

The Federal Railroad Administration or FRA stated this week that it would release a new safety advisory to urge railroads to more aggressively fight worker fatigue and to install cameras in trains.

Our View

As railroad accident attorneys in Virginia, we wish that the train engineer had been diagnosed with his sleep apnea condition as it could have saved lives. Also, this tragic train accident is another reminder of the importance of commuter trains installing Positive Train Control or PTC.

This system would automatically stop a train before it is able to speed excessively or to run a red signal. PTC was supposed to be installed on at least 25 US passenger train systems by the end of 2015, but it has now been delayed until 2018.

We hope that PTC will be installed on major commuter rail systems as soon as possible so that serious train accidents and derailments can be prevented. Our railroad attorneys have worked on major train accident cases involving large financial settlements and verdicts, and we would like to see fewer of these tragedies happen.

 

 

New Jersey Transit Approves Funds for Postive Train Control

In the wake of a deadly commuter train crash in a busy Hoboken, New Jersey train station, New Jersey Transit has approved a budget that includes funding for large parts of positive train control (PTC) system, which would include an automatic braking system that could automatically stop a train in an emergency situation.

hoboken

New Jersey Transit approved an agreement for leasing radio frequency spectrum, which is an essential part of a PTC system, to cover northern and eastern areas of the railroad in the state. In April, the transit authority worked out a deal to cover the southern, central and western areas.

NJ Transit has until the end of 2018 to fully implement PTC, per the federal deadline for the installation of PTC on all commuter train systems.

When the commuter train in Hoboken crashed, killing one and leaving 100 injured, the NTSB quickly concluded that an automatic braking system may have prevented the disaster. In that crash in late September 2016, the commuter train was rolling into the Hoboken station at a normal 5 MPH, but suddenly increased speed and crashed into the terminal, spraying debris through the waiting crowds of commuters.

It is not yet known why the train sped up; the engineer has no memory of the crash.

When a train derailed in Philidelphia in May 2015, the NTSB also determined quickly that the derailment would have been prevented by PTC.

Our View

Our railroad accident and railroad derailment lawyers are glad that New Jersey Transit is working on installing PTC on its trains and rail lines. PTC could prevent 52 accidents per year, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. The NTSB also claims that if PTC had been in place, it could have prevented 15 train crashes since 2005 that killed 50 people.

Our personal injury attorneys implore the US and state governments to implement Positive Train Control more quickly. We should be keeping up with countries in Europe and Asia that already have versions of PTC in place.

When train derailments occur, the injuries and deaths are devastating to families. And those derailments can lead to huge personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits that can cost the railroad tens of millions of dollars in a jury verdict. PTC is a smart investment.

 

NTSB Finds That Hoboken Train Speed Tripled Before Wreck

A deadly train crash in New Jersey on Sept. 29 that killed one and injured more than 100 underwent a rapid acceleration just before impact as it entered a busy commuter station in Hoboken NJ, according to the NTSB. 

The NTSP stated that the train was rolling into the station at a normal eight MPH, but for some reason, about 30 seconds before the crash, it sped up to at least 25 MPH.

hoboken

The engineer working the train stated that the brakes were operating normally. The emergency brakes were applied one second before impact.

The NTSB will continue to review the deadly crash and will make safety recommendations to avoid a recurrence. That could take more than a year.

The engineer told investigators that he was not using his cell phone and that the brakes had been checked before the trip. He claims no memory of the crash and remembers waking up on the floor of the cab.

There is speculation that the engineer fell asleep, but the investigation is continuing.

Our View

Our personal injury and railroad accident attorneys hope that this railroad crash in New Jersey will speed the adoption of positive train control or PTC throughout the commuter rail industry. The technology exists now to automatically slow trains that do not stop as they should, or are running well beyond speed limits for given area, but there continues to be delays in implementing this system throughout the country.

With PTC on line, this would prevent many train accidents from occurring, as well as serioius injuries and loss of life that leads to expensive lawsuits. 

 

 

 

US Railroad Workers Testing Positive for Drugs Skyrockets

In early 2016, a railroad worker who had just been briefed on an upcoming assignment was found dead in a restroom, having overdosed on illegal prescription drugs. In the following months, tests that were done after three railroad accidents found that six employees on the trains tested positive for drugs. 

In a report done by the Washington Post, testing in 2016 has shown that almost 8% of workers involved in railroad crashes were positive for various illegal and prescription drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, benzodiazepine, OxyContin and morphine.

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The number of post-crash drug positives was the highest since the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) started to keep records in 1987. Overall, the number of railroad workers who tested positive for drug use went up 43% in the last year. The number increased to 256 last year from 2014.

After rail crashes in 2014, no workers tested positive for drugs, and only two people did last year. With three months left in 2016, 16 railroad workers have tested positive in tests after railroad accidents.

Railroads transported 565 million passengers and 14.2 million carloads of freight in the last year. Train workers are some of the most heavily drug tested in the US. They are drug screened before they are hired, and they are tested randomly on the job each year.

Still, the report shows that there is strong evidence that illegal drug use is on the rise in the railroad industry. That is why in September 2016, the heads of all major railroads in the US were called to Washington to talk in a closed door meeting about the rise in drug use among rail workers and what to do about it. Officials from the FRA, National Transportation Safety Board and the Office of National Drug Control Policy detailed their concerns about the drug problem and asked the railroads to help them deal with it.

One thing that is being changed is that currently, railroad drug testing is limited to 120,000 workers whose jobs are ‘safety sensitive,’ or where lives are put at risk in the performance of their work. Train and track repair workers do not have to undergo drug testing. Federal officials want this to change. They want railroads to start testing these workers as well by April 1, 2017, but so far, industry is resisting a deadline that soon; they have asked for a delay in the additional testing for another 14 months.

Our View

Railroad accidents, railroad crossing crashes and train derailments are too common in America. As railroad accident attorneys who handle serious personal injury and wrongful death cases, we hope that railroads across the US will start to do more stringent testing of all railroad workers for drugs.

After all, when a serious train accident occurs, massive injuries can occur, such as in this $60 million verdict our Virginia railroad accident lawyers handled when a train derailed in Manassas VA. If drug testing could reduce the likelihood of this type of train accident, we are all for it.

 

 

 

 

 

FRA Issues Status Updates for Positive Train Control Progress

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) last week issued a status update that is calling for railroads to come out with Positive Train Control (PTC) technologies, which uses GNSS technology, as some as they are able to do so. This update also emphasizes the Obama administration’s call to send more funding to help commuter railroads to implement Positive Train Control. 

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PTC mostly uses GPS to prevent train crashes, derailments and unauthorized movement of trains into work areas, but GNSS  (Global Navigation Satellite System) is a more advanced technology.

Both Congress and railroads have been sluggish to accept and implement PTC due to cost concerns. The NTSB has recommended PTC as one of the most important safety improvements of the year. However, the NTSB has been fighting a slow battle against the industry and Congress to get the systems implemented quickly.

The NTSB has responded to the slow adoption of PTC by noting that several major railroad accidents could have been likely avoided if PTC had been implemented. One of them was the May 12, 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphia that killed eight.

Our View

It is a shame that industry and Congress are slow to adopt PTC; bringing this technology online quickly could save many lives. Our railroad industry crash lawyers have represented clients whose families were lost in train mishaps. Also, we have reported on many train accidents where people died, such as this rear end crash between two trains in IA in 2011. That crash could have been avoided with better safety systems.