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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. 

 

FRA Final Rule Requires Better Safety Approach for Passenger Rail

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued a final rule in August 2016 that states that passenger railroads will need to adopt more proactive safety rules to prevent serious accidents, injuries and deaths. 

The final rule issued by the US railroad regulator is called the system Safety Program. Under it, railroads are required to develop a better and quantifiable safety culture within their organizational structure. Other requirements are to identify potential safety hazards and take steps to deal with them, while also showing how they will stay in compliance with FRA regulations.

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FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg stated that the new rule should help passenger railroads increase their safety over the next several years.

Our View

We are pleased in our railroad accident legal office in Virginia that the FRA is mandating more safety regulations for passenger railroads in the US. There have been far too many passenger rail accidents in recent years, such as the devastating Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia in 2015 that killed at least 10 and injured at least 100. 

When there is a derailment, obviously the railroad needs to take immediate actions to prevent such events from occurring again. However, there also should be much more efforts placed on improving the safety culture within the organization so that these tragedies never happen again.

Another tragedy occurred in April 2016, when an Amtrak train slammed into two workers on a track that they thought was closed for maintenance. The train hit them at full speed on their truck and they were killed instantly.

A better safety culture also will prevent these railroads for being sued for millions of dollars in a wrongful death lawsuit. We won a $60 million settlement in a train derailment case a few years ago. While we were pleased with the result, it would be better if the accident never happened with better oversight by the railroad.

 

CT Congresswoman Reintroduces Rail Safety Enforcement Act

Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is leading an effort on Capitol Hill to reintroduce the Rail Safety Enforcement Act, which would mandate that railroads establish and implement a Fatigue Management Plan. It also would provide railroad workers with a defined start time, or at least 10 hours notice before reporting to the job. 

DeLauro made the announcement at the West Haven CT train station on Wednesday. This was the location where a Metro-North Railroad train struck a track supervisor and killed him in May 2013.

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At the announcement, a former railroad conductor commented that the biggest safety issue in the railroad industry is ‘fatigue, fatigue and fatigue.’ Francis Ariola is now the legislative director of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation union’s Transportation Division. He noted that union members are plagued with constant fatigue because they have extremely unpredictable work schedules.

Ariola noted that many workers are on call 24/7 and get as little as 90 minutes notice when they have to report for work.

The fate of the Rail Safety Enforcement Act is uncertain at this time, given that it is a presidential election year.

Our View

Our Virginia railroad injury attorneys know that railroads often disregard the need for adequate rest and sound sleep for train engineers. Serious injuries and deaths often result. For example, a National Transportation Safety Board report recently found that crew member fatigue played a major role in the collision of two trains. 

Our railroad accident attorneys truly hope that the Rail Safety Enforcement Act is passed into law soon so that train engineers will be able to get the much needed rest they need to prevent many train accidents. Some train accidents lead to major accidents that leave crash victims devastated and injured for life, such as this $60 million personal injury verdict we worked in in 2000. Any law that can reduce the chances of such a terrible accident is worth it.

 

 

3 Railroad Employees Missing After Head-On Crash in Texas

Two BNSF freight trains slammed into each other on the same track outside of Amarillo TX, with at least one railroad worker injured and three missing. 

According to a spokesman for the Carson County TX sheriff’s office, the chances of finding the missing crew members alive is low.

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The two train crash happened at 8:25 central time on Tuesday near Amarillo. The trains were carrying consumer goods and the wreck happened on the main line, which is called the Southern Transcon that connects Los Angeles with Chicago.

Experts say that while the investigation is in the early stages, it appeared that this type of accident could have been prevented if positive train control technology had been used. Railroads got an extension last year on implementing PTC until 2018, after most railroad were unable to meet a 2015 deadline. The system is designed to stop trains automatically when they are in an incorrect position or do not observe traffic signals.

BNSF stated that it intends to install PTC on the section of track where the accident happened.

Our View

Our hearts go out to the families of the injured and missing men in this train accident. As railroad accident attorneys, we know that many railroads have been delaying the implementation of PTC to save money. As I once wrote, this is an absurd argument when you consider the costs of upgrading safety equipment compared to the costs associated with the type of train crash above.

It is estimated that 20 year installation, testing and maintenance costs for PTC would be as much as $24 billion. That is a great deal of money, but the above wreck is going to cost BNSF millions and millions of dollars in property damages and government fines. Also, there will almost certainly be very expensive wrongful death lawsuits for the men who are missing and presumed dead.

Our railroad accident attorneys think that railroads should put PTC systems into their trains and infrastructure as soon as possible, even if profits are reduced for a few years. Such actions would help railroads to avoid massive lawsuits that can cost them millions of dollars. 

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Claims Railroad Trestle Is Hazardous

A railroad trestle in Wilkes-Barre PA is a public safety hazard that has killed one person and left another person severely injured, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed in Luzerne County PA this week.

The trestle crosses over East Thomas St. at South Cleveland St. in Wilkes Barre, and has  a large gap between a set of current and former railroad tracks that is a major hazard, according to the lawsuit.

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That is where a 29 year-old man died last year. He was riding his dirt bike through the opening at 2 am on April 26, 2015 and fell 20 feet to the ground and died. The owners and operators of the bridge had known it was hazardous since May 2014, when an ATV rider also fell through the hole and suffered serious injuries.

Attorneys representing the widow and her daughter filed the suit against the owner of the trestle, the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority and Luzerne County Rail Corp.

The attorneys stated that the defendants did not take any action after the first accident to restrict or impede the public from using the railroad right of way, as well as the trestle.

Our View

Fatalities on train tracks and train trestles are far too common, but in our work as railroad accident lawyers, we find that railroads often delay or fight important safety upgrades to save money. We have seen railroads hesitate to spend money on fences, No Trespassing signs, systems that would allow dispatchers to slow or stop trains and more. We advise all railroads to do more to control track access and to improve protections on train trestles for people who live and work near them.

People whose loved ones have died at or near train tracks such as in the above tragedy should talk to a personal injury attorney to determine if the railroad may be held liable.

 

 

 

Amtrak and CSX Warn Drivers to Be Cautious at Railroad Crossings

Amtrak and CSX have teamed up with local police agencies in the Rochester NY area to remind drivers to take care around railroad crossings. The safety effort started this week along King Road in Chili NY near Rochester.

This railroad crossing was the site of a fatal car and train crash in 2015. Investigators stated that the crossing gates came down and an Amtrak train came through. Before the gates went up, a driver crossed into the path of a CSX train and was killed.

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CSX and Amtrak stated that drivers need to be sure that they always yield to signs and signals at railroad crossings.

The Federal Railroad Administration parroted this message during this safety blitz, and the FRA has promoted a mobile phone app that it is working with Google to add alerts about upcoming railroad crossings on its GPS mapping systems.

Our Take

Railroad crossing accidents are far too common in the US. Thousands of people are killed or injured each year because of these accidents. In fact, the FRA tells us that cars and trains hit each other every 12 minutes in the US.  But contrary to the message promoted by the railroads, the motorist is not exclusively at fault in the causal analysis of tragedies that occur at railroad crossings.

Take as one example stop signs added at railroad crossings in many rural areas. One would think that adding a stop sign at a railroad crossing would be a logical, solid idea to avoid tragedies where railroad trains strike cars or vehicles causing tragic injuries or deaths. In fact, a major study that I blogged about years ago found just the opposite, adding stop signs at many rural crossings increased crossing collisions rather than decrease them. Car drivers clearly need to use great caution around railroad crossings, keeping in mind that modern Amtrak trains travel up to 79 mph and some freight trains travel at 55 or 60 miles an hour. A train can be traveling at 60 MPH or more and appear from around the bend at a railroad crossing in a split second.

While some of these railroad crossing injuries and deaths are due to driver error, our experience as railroad crossing attorneys in Virginia has shown us that railroad negligence often is involved:

  • Maintenance problems: Sometimes the railroad crossing collision is caused due to the lack of light sport gates at a busy railroad crossing. Or, trees or shrub vegetation has grown up around the railroad crossing tracks that obscured the driver’s vision.
  • Train/railroad engineer operator error: In a study of 10,000 car/train accidents, human error was involved in almost 35% of them. Some of these were due to a sleepy train operator.
  • Distracted railroad transportation personnel (engineers or conductors): Train crews, just like car drivers, can become distracted by cell phones, the radio and other things, although more recently the use of cell phones has been banned during regular train operations.
  • Active gates and lights failure: There have been railroad crossing collisions where the gates malfunctioned, and even trapped a car on the tracks with a train approaching.

If you are involved in a railroad crossing accident, an experienced railroad crossing injury lawyer will be able to review all of the evidence of the crash, including video from the locomotive’s on board cameras, data event recorders and signalization information. An experienced railroad crossing injury lawyer may assist in determining if the railroad was to blame, which can result in a financial settlement to compensate you for your injuries, pain and suffering.

 

DC Metro’s ‘SafeTrack’ Plan Being Delayed

DC Metro officials this week confirmed that the final draft of their ‘SafeTrack’ repair plan is going to be delayed as metro officials continue to work with the Federal Transit Administration to meet safety guidelines.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld announced initial draft of the huge repair plan on May 6, and promised the final draft yesterday.

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A track explosion two weeks ago prompted FTA to step in and stop Metro’s plans to release the final draft.

FTA issued a set of actions to Metro on May 7 and warned that they had to take the actions immediately or risk a full system shutdown for safety reasons. FTA has blasted Metro publicly for failing to have enough workers trained on emergency response, running too many trains in service at one time and not doing enough daily safety inspections.

The FTA order also addressed major employee negligence issues, such as train operators running red lights and running trains too fast. New speed restrictions are now in place and are slowing daily commutes for thousands of passengers.

The SafeTrack program proposes to repair the entire Metro system over a year with single tracking, line closures and reduced service hours on all lines.

As Virginia railroad injury attorneys, we find it alarming that so many safety failures have crippled the DC Metro system. We remember a few years ago when two DC Metro trains slammed into each other, killing four people. There also have been multiple fires on Metro lines and several explosions over the last three years.

We hope that those who have been injured by DC Metro during these multiple safety failures are able to recover from their injuries. Our railroad injury law firm has helped victims of many train accidents, and we know that small safety errors can lead to deadly results.

 

DC Metro Fires 20 Managers After Multiple Smoke/Fire Injuries

After several years worth of DC Metro safety incidents that have led to several deaths and dozens of personal injury lawsuits, the general manager for the trouble-plagued metro system fired 20 station managers as part of his effort to reform the system.

The general manager, Paul Wiedefeld, followed through on earlier threats to fire managers in the troubled public transit system, after a catastrophic start to the year with multiple tunnel fire and smoke incidents that sickened many passengers. Also, a smoke and fire incident in 2015 led to the death of one woman and more than 70 personal injury suits for people who were sickened by smoke.

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In that 2015 case, electrical smoke near the L’Enfant Plaza station overcame the train and killed a woman and left the other passengers needing medical attention.

The mass firings came just a few days after DC Metro introduced a new ten month repair plan called SafeTrack that will result in virtual 24/7 work on metro tracks and equipment. This will result in entire sections of the system being closed for days at a time and many instances of single tracking trains during rush hour. This will cause major delays and headaches for tens of thousands of workers, but is viewed as essential to making the system safe.

Our train crash and accident lawyers in Virginia hope that DC Metro gets its act together soon. We have reported on the above tragic train disaster in 2015 before. Defective power cables generated a massive smoke cloud that overwhelmed hundreds of passengers. Passengers tried to flee the train by forcing open the doors. Power was cut off to stop the fire on the tracks, which meant that the train could not move, leaving passengers trapped.

We hope that the new safety emphasis with Metro means that there will be no more injuries and deaths, but if there is, we also hope that the injured parties will seek the counsel of experienced train accident personal injury lawyers.

 

 

 

 

Train Conductor Sues Union Pacific for Injuries on Job

Union Pacific Railroad is being sued after one of its employees was allegedly thrown from a rail car in Cheyenne WY.

The plaintiff filed his lawsuit on April 8 in Laramie County District Court in Wyoming. The complaint stated that he was working as a conductor on Oct. 30, 2014 when he was thrown from the car and suffered a partial amputation of his right foot.

The complaint states that the railroad caused the accident because it did not provide safe tools and equipment for the worker to do his job, and also it failed to ‘provide an efficient hand brake,’ and did not ‘provide a safe and proper procedure to perform the assigned task.’

Therefore, the plaintiff is seeking compensation for his medical costs, pain and suffering, loss of income past, present and future, and permanent disability.

As experienced FELA attorneys in Virginia, we know many situations where railroad safety improvements have occurred after the railroad has been exposed to serious financial liability through jury verdicts. Our law firm’s Richard Shapiro has been active in the coordination of information regarding dangerous railroad hazards with attorneys who represent injured railroad workers around the country.

One of the main reasons we do this is to hope that well informed FELA attorneys around the country as well as well informed railroad workers will bring about a safer work environment for all railroad employees.

Over the years, it seems that FELA has had a strong effect in improving railroad safety; there has been a decline in recent years in employee deaths and injuries in the railroad industry, which coincides with aggressive filings of FELA lawsuits on behalf of injured workers. We think that FELA is a strong tool to keep railroad roads focused on constantly improving worker safety.

Anyone who has been injured on the job at a railroad should consult with an experienced FELA attorney immediately.

Feds Issue New Safety Orders for DC Metro

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has ordered the Washington Metrorail system to take immediate action to reduce the chances of smoke and fire problems after a tunnel fire last week that forced metro officials to close a station for the evening.

The FTA has issued the new safety orders that mandate that the transit agency pinpoint power hot spots and to engage in immediate repairs in those high risk areas. FTA also has ordered Metro to engage in immediate training sessions with employees to boost emergency planning.

This federal directive has come down after there were two separate smoke and fire emergencies near the Federal Center metro stop last week, forcing the closing of the entire station. The FTA noted in its directive that early information showed that the transit authority’s responses to the emergencies were slow and inadequate.

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also has sent out its own recommendations to Metro, but this was right before the transit agency outlined its new, massive rehabilitation plan that will shutter large sections of the entire Metro system for a full year. This plan will require major repairs and upgrades that will take weeks and months in some areas.

These most recent incidents are just the tip of the iceberg for Metro. Last year, there was a tunnel fire near the L’Enfant Plaza station that killed one person and left dozens with smoke inhalation injuries. Attorneys representing those Metro passengers recently filed 87 personal injury lawsuits against the transit authority.

We are glad that Metro is finally going to be engaging in long-needed repairs to its systems in the DC area. Injuries involving chemical or smoke inhalation are very serious, and it requires the services of a highly experienced railroad injury attorney to gather the evidence and to work with doctors and other professionals, including a toxicologist, to show that respiratory injuries were a direct result of the metro accident.