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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.

 

 

 

 

Most Railroads Won’t Meet Deadline For New Safety Technology

By Richard Shapiro, Railroad Accident Attorney

Only a few railroads will come close to meeting a new federal deadline to install new safety technology that may prevent some crashes. Some of those crashes include derailments due to excessive speed, such as the deadly Amtrak wreck in Philadelphia last May. 

Just three railroads have turned in their safety plans to the federal government. This is necessary before they can place the new technology – positive train control (PTC) – into operation. The railroads are BNSF Railway, Metrolink in Lose Angeles, and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

Amtrak has not yet submitted their plan, but railroad authorities state that they think PTC will be operating in the Northeast Corridor by the end of the year.

The PTC being put into place uses GPS, wireless radio and computer technology to monitor the position of trains and will automatically slow or stop trains that may derail because they are going to fast or are about to crash into another train.

train

A rail safety law that was passed seven years ago gave railroads seven years to install PTC. The technology is expensive, and many railroads did not move quickly. However, the May 12 Amtrak crash, which killed eight and injured at least 200, has spurred the federal government to start to push rail companies to get PTC installed as soon as possible.

As Virginia railroad accident attorneys, we have seen many train derailments occur due to poor maintenance and lax safety standards on the part of railroad companies. About 40% of train derailments in the US are caused by broken rails and track problems, and many others are caused by excessive speed.

A major union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division, called this year for rail companies to do more for rail safety and to keep train tracks in proper repair. This is especially important in the case of oil trains; all it takes is one worn out section of track for a major derailment to occur, and this can be a true disaster when dozens of tankers carrying crude oil are involved.

Some companies have been fighting the installation of PTC on oil tanker cars, which we find to be truly unfortunate. The installation of PTC can not only reduce the incidence of oil trains derailing: It could prevent most derailments, such as the Amtrak crash that took so many lives. We hope that all railroad companies will get on board and get PTC installed as soon as possible, and generally do more to increase the safety of the US rail system.

 

 

Mesothelioma Rate Has Not Dropped Despite Huge Drop In Asbestos Usage

By Rick Shapiro, Railroad Accident/FELA Attorney

Workers with railroad companies such as Norfolk Southern, CSX, BNSF, Amtrak, etc. have been known to suffer serious lung conditions as a result of exposure to asbestos. The once popular material was embraced by the construction, manufacturing and railroad industries given its cheap price, easy availability and usefulness in absorbing sound and heat. However, asbestos is also a highly toxic fiber which can get lodged in the linings of your lungs and eventually cause deadly conditions like mesothelioma.

Given the well-known danger of asbestos, manufacturers were finally forced by government regulators to severely restrict if not entirely eliminate the use of asbestos in the United States. Back in the 1970s, asbestos usage reached its peak, with more than 800,000 metric tons of the product being used across the country. Thankfully, pressure from the federal government and others forced companies to cut back use so that by 2011, just barely 1,000 metric tons of asbestos were used in the U.S.

Despite the dramatic drop in asbestos usage, there has not been a similar decline in the number of mesothelioma cases. Though many people would expect the number of mesothelioma and other lung disease cases to drop by corresponding amounts, the rate of mesothelioma diagnosis has actually remained constant in the U.S. for decades. According to the American Cancer Society, the rate of mesothelioma diagnosis increased substantially between the 1970s and the 1990s and has remained fairly constant since then. Today, approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year.

Why have the rates remained the same despite the dramatic drops in asbestos usage? For one thing, even though new usage of asbestos has declined dramatically, old asbestos can still lurk in buildings undetected. Because of how prevalent asbestos used to be, there are many structures that could contain asbestos which might inadvertently harm workers who never even knew it was there. The time and expense associated with asbestos cleanup has deterred some people from taking action to remove the harmful substance.

Another reason why mesothelioma rates have not declined is that asbestos exposure can take years if not decades to manifest as mesothelioma. In some cases, even a short-term exposure to asbestos can result in the development of mesothelioma fifty years later.

Given this long lead-time, many people who worked in and around asbestos decades ago are only now being diagnosed with lung disease.

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