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Trains Should Be Kept Fully Staffed for Safety

The Indiana State Legislative Board Chairman wrote an urgent plea last week that all train crews should be kept to two and not reduced to one, as the state government is considering, under pressure from railroad interests.

There are more than 4,000 miles of track in Indiana, Brian Farkas wrote, and he argues in the article that an excellent safety record in the state could be jeopardized if railroad carriers reduce crew sizes to save money.

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The possible action stems from the Railroad Safety Improvement Act that Congress passed in 2008. It featured provisions to require positive train control technology on all railroads. This new technology, while a vast safety improvement, was not designed to effectively replace a crew member. Rather, it is designed to reduce train crashes.

Farkas wrote that he thinks it would be a dangerous error if the state legislature agreed to reduce train crew sizes. A member of the state legislature in Indiana recently introduced a new bill that would require all freight train crews to consist of at least two engineers. Naturally, the bill is strongly opposed by railroad industry lobbying groups.

The chairman urged Indiana readers to call their state representatives to voice their support for the train safety bill.

We certainly hope that the state legislature in Indiana does not decide to allow railroads to reduce their freight train crews. Every train crew should have at least two members to ensure that the train is being operated safely. The news media has been filled with recent stories of serious train accidents and derailments that led to loss of life. A train collision with another train in 2008 led to several deaths, and all was because the lone train operator was on her cell phone.

Our Virginia personal injury law firm works often on railroad accident cases, such as this $190,000 settlement. Anything that can be done to reduce the chances of train accidents sounds good to us.

 

Switchman Who Loses Leg Sues Railroad

A former switchman for Tacoma (WA) Rail has filed a lawsuit against the railroad. He contends that the railroad created a dangerous railroad work environment that contributed to the accident that caused him to lose a leg.

Federal-Employee-Liability

Nathan Johnson, 45, from Fife WA, is seeking damages for his pain and suffering, lost wages and medical expenses. An earlier claim with the city showed that he is seeking $6 million.

The lawsuit claims that he was trying to climb into a moving rail car when he fell partially under the train. The suit further states that Tacoma Rail actively encourages employees to climb onto and off moving trains to get work done faster and to reduce labor costs. Further, the claim states that the safety appliance on the railroad car were inadequate and in violation of the Federal Railway Safety Appliance Act.

Our extensive experience in Virginia and North Carolina as railroad accident attorneys has shown that railroads often will try to avoid their liability for workers’ injuries on the job. We have represented many railroad workers who have been badly injured on the job, and have been pleased to reach large settlements and verdicts for our railroad worker clients.

One of the most important things we want to stress is that railroad workers should not be afraid to take legal action against a railroad whose negligence may have led to your injury. In reality, there have been many successful personal injury lawsuits in recent years against railroads. Consult an expert railroad personal injury attorney in your state and the results can be highly favorable.

New York Town May Shut Down Deadly Rail Crossing

A small town in Westchester County, NY may shut down the railroad crossing where an SUV driver and five train passengers died in a disastrous railroad crossing crash last year.

The Feb. 3, 2015 train crash prompted the town of of Mount Pleasant NY to study whether vehicle traffic should be diverted from the hazardous railroad crossing at Commerce Street.

The town supervisor noted that this type of major accident indicates that the crossing could simply be too hazardous to remain open. An actual closure of the crossing would require New York state approval.

amtrak

The deadly crash happened during rush hour during the week on Metro North’s Harlem line, which runs from Grand Central Station in New York City into Westchester County. It also continues on into nearby Putnam and Dutchess counties.

The crash occurred when the SUV driver stopped on the railroad tracks after she had been diverted from the Taconic State Parkway after another accident.

After the train smashed into the SUV, the third rail that powers the train pierced the floor of the first train car. Also, 12 pieces of rail tore through the car, which caught fire.

More light has been shed on this crash this month, after the NTSB released many of its investigation documents about the likely cause of the crash.

The NTSB documents revealed that the traffic control system at the railroad crossing that controls stoplights was out of compliance with federal guidelines when the crash happened.

This is known as a preemption system, which is supposed to activate traffic lights as trains approach the crossing. The aim is to clear vehicle traffic from railroad tracks and to prevent accidents.

The system was not properly configured to clear track traffic coming from Taconic State Parkway, according to Steve Ditmeyer, a former federal rail official. Ditmeyer now runs a consulting firm in Virginia, and he recently reviewed the NTSB report at The Wall Street Journal’s request.

He noted that the proper stoplight sequence did not occur when the crash happened, but he was not certain if it played a major role in the crash. Since the crash, the preemption system at that crossing has been changed.

Our Virginia and North Carolina personal injury lawyers have represented the families of many train crossing accident victims over the last decade. This experience has provided us with a detailed grasp of why serious injuries and wrongful deaths happen at rail crossings.

If the families of the deceased in this tragic train/car crash want to collect compensation for their pain and suffering, it is important for them to work with the best railroad accident attorney they can. In Virginia, we often retain former railroad workers–who have retired–as investigators, or retain former federal railroad administration experts, and they conduct thorough investigations of railroad crossing crashes or railroad derailments. This work gives our team unique insights into the causes of these mostly preventable accidents. That type of skilled litigation is what helped us to win a recent $1 million settlement in a Virginia train accident.

 

 

 

 

27 Pedestrian Rail Deaths In Washington State Prompts Safety Campaign

The number of pedestrian rail fatalities in Washington state climbed to 27 in 2015, rail officials stated this week, which has prompted a new safety campaign to warn people about the dangers of railroad tracks and crossings.

The new goal for 2016 in the state is zero railroad fatalities. Nationwide, Washington is ranked #9 in train fatalities from Jan-Sept 2015, which is the most recent data available from the Federal Railroad Administration. California was tops on the list with 119 deaths, and Texas was second at 50 deaths.

Fatality risks tend to climb due to the number of trespassers on tracks, improving train technology that makes locomotives quieter than ever, and also based upon the number of trains running per day in a given area.

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According to the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission railroad safety supervisor, the major problem is with trespassing. “People don’t grasp that it takes a mile for a full sized freight train to come to a stop,’ he told the press this week.

Bad weather can make it harder for pedestrians to see or hear trains approaching as well. And there was more warm weather in the state last summer, which may have led to more people walking near railroad tracks.

In addition to the 27 pedestrian deaths, there also were two drivers who died when their vehicles were struck by trains at railroad crossings. There also were 104 non-fatal incidents on railroad tracks in Washington state in 2015, which led to cuts and bruises, and amputations in the worst cases.

Most of the accidents and deaths that occurred were on BNSF owned railroad tracks, which owns over 50% of the railroad lines in the state.

Because of the high number of deaths and injuries, the state chapter of Operation Livesaver is going to increase its number of safety presentations at schools and produce more radio and TV ads to warn of the dangers of walking near railroad tracks.

As personal injury lawyers in train-pedestrian accidents, we often see railroads and the government claim that these types of tragedies are ‘trespassing accidents.’ The public may not be aware, but it is the responsibility of the railroads to maintain railroad tracks and keep them safe. Fencing off railways and trestles in areas with high foot traffic is vital to keep people from walking on train tracks. If you have a loved one who died walking on train tracks, know that the railroad does have responsibilities to keep high traffic rail lines safe. The railroad track is actually private property, and most railroads do little to mitigate these risks. Talk to a personal injury lawyer to learn about the responsibilities of railroads in maintaining their property safely.

 

19 Year Old Killed at Train Crossing in Idaho

A nineteen year old died last week in Kuna, Idaho, when a train slammed into his car at a railroad crossing at more than 50 MPH.

The local police stated that Peter Francois was struck by the train at a crossing in Kuna ID at a crossing on Black Cat Road. They also stated that the Union Pacific train was going 55 MPH when the wreck happened.

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It is unclear why the man did not stop the car at the railroad tracks. The police stated that there is a stop sign at the crossing. There is no crossing arms or flashing lights at the location, however. Police said that it appeared that the train engineer did follow the mandated protocol of blasting its horn before the crossing.

While the number of train crossing accidents have fallen greatly in the last 30 years, most that still occur are in rural areas. Rural crossings are not usually required to have crossing arms and flashing lights.

Unfortunately, railroad crossing accidents still are quite common, even though there are far fewer these days than decades ago. Our railroad accident attorneys in Virginia and North Carolina know that the majority of these accidents do not happen because the car driver is trying to beat the train. At passive rail crossings that have no flashing lights or gates, drivers have to watch carefully for train traffic. However, we have found that in many cases, drivers do not have a clear view to the left and right at the crossing.

One of our clients was going over railroad tracks in Virginia when a train suddenly appeared and slammed his car into a ditch, which led to a sizable settlement.

There have been studies of train crashes at railroad crossings, and it was found that sight obstruction from 2001 to 2005 had led to 87 deaths at the crossings. States have been quite slow to inspect railroad crossings and to remove all obstructions. If they did so, perhaps there would be fewer of these senseless tragedies. Anyone who has had a loved one killed at a train crossing should consult with an experienced attorney, because there are cases where the accident was not the driver’s fault.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

amtrak

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.

amtrak

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.

 

20 Year Anniversary of School Bus-Train Crash Remembered

It was 20 years ago on Oct. 25 that a horrifying collision between a Chicago commuter train and a school bus in Fox River Grove IL at a railroad crossing led to the deaths of seven students.

Since then, there have been a number of safety improvements at railroad crossings across the US, but accidents can and still do occur.

Some of the changes at railroad crossings include more traffic signals at crossings, better connections between traffic signals and warnings on trains. Also, there are more signs and markings on pavement to warn drivers and pedestrians to get off the tracks quickly.

It was at 7 am on Oct. 25, 1995 when a Metra train out of Chicago, which was operated by Union Pacific Railroad, smashed into the rear of a school bus at a grade crossing at Algonquin Road in Fox Grove IL.

The bus had crossed the tracks and was stopped for a traffic signal at a road right next to the road. The crossing gate came down on the bus and the engineer on the train blew the whistle, but the bus driver claimed she never heard these warnings.

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The end of the bus was approximately three feet over the tracks when the train smashed into it.

In a report a year later, the National Transportation Safety Board had criticism for how buses were being routed and the general oversight of the bus drivers.

The NTSB also said that the intersection design was improper, and the warning and traffic signal interaction also led to the crash. The NTSB further recommended more rigorous grade crossing inspections and guidelines so drivers better know if their vehicle is in the path of a train.

Since the crash, there have been no more such incidents in IL, but there have been situations where buses were stuck on tracks because the crossing gates came down improperly.

Our railroad accident attorneys are glad that there have been safety improvements on railroad crossings, but serious injuries and deaths still do occur. We settled a train crossing accident case in Prince William County VA when a freight train hit the rear of a car with two small children inside. Neither child was killed but both suffered head and other injuries.

The driver of the car claimed that he could not see the train until the last second. We eventually demanded a settlement for our client – the mother – from the driver and Norfolk Southern, for $133,000.