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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.

 

 

 

 

 

New Jersey Train Station Crash Kills 1, Injures 100

A New Jersey Transit train crashed and derailed as it arrive into Hoboken Terminal just before 9 am on Thursday morning. The rush hour train crash killed one person and injured more than 100. Images posted on social media showed that the train tore through a wall and severely damaged the station, leaving train debris strewn about and twisted metal columns after the wreck.

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According to witnesses, the train pulled into the station traveling far too fast, overrunning its stopping point. It slammed into a bumper block, went airborne and slammed into a passenger concourse in the terminal. One witness who was in the front car told the media that the train did not appear to slow at all as it came into the station. Another passenger on the train stated that the train did not brake at all when it entered the station.

The woman who died was Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, 34, from Hoboken. She died when she was hit by debris while standing on the platform.

The engineer’s name is Thomas Gallagher, 48, and he was treated and released from a hospital. He is cooperating with investigators on the train accident.

Some federal lawmakers said after the crash that positive train control could have helped avoid this tragedy. The system combines GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains and to stop them automatically from crashing, derailing or speeding. New Jersey Transit has not yet installed PTC. The deadline set by Congress to install PTC in all passenger trains has been extended until 2018.

The train’s event recorder has been recovered and NTSB investigators are analyzing its contents.

Our View

Our personal injury attorneys send condolences to the family of the woman who was killed in this tragic Hoboken train derailment and crash. It is too early to speculate about the cause of this train accident, but it is alarming that the train apparently did not slow at all as it entered the train station. Whether the engineer fell asleep, was texting on a cell phone or had a medical emergency, there is little doubt that PTC could have prevented this train accident in Hoboken and could have saved a life and prevented many serious personal injuries.

Positive train control has gotten much attention ever since a 2008 Metrolink train crash in California that killed more than 20 people. President Bush signed a laws that required PTC systems to be installed by the end of 2015, but unfortunately, railroads lobbied to get that deadline extended until 2018.

Other safety experts have pointed out that if the railroads or commuter train companies were required to have two crewmembers in the engine or in the forward car, it would prevent tragedies like this where a single crew member gets distracted or falls asleep.

Our hope is that this train crash will serve as a wake up call for railroads to stop dragging its collective feet and get PTC installed on its trains as soon as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

Railroads Sluggish to Adopt Safety Technology as Deadline Passes

Many commuter and freight railroads continue to be slow to adopt safety technology that could prevent deadly crashes and derailments. This is in spite of the fact that that Congress has mandated that railroads install positive train control or PTC. 

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PTC uses digital radio signals, GPS and signals on tracks to monitor the position of trains. It has the ability to automatically stop or slow a train to prevent it from disobeying a signal. This has the potential to prevent derailments and serious accidents, including trains entering tracks that are closed for maintenance.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, some railroads have made some progress, but many others have yet to equip a single train or track with the technology.

Congress passed the law in 2008 which gave railroads seven years to install PTC. Last year that deadline was extended for three more years. But according to Sarah Feinberg, head of the FRA,, railroads should not delay in installing the technology. Every day that goes by without PTC, she said, we are risking another serious train accident.

As of summer 2016, PTC is installed on 9% of freight route lines and 22% of passenger rail lines. Freight railroads  have also outfitted 34% of their locomotives with PTC.

However, progress varies greatly by railroad. BNSF has equipped 3/4 of its locomotives, while Union Pacific has barely equipped any of its locomotives at this point.

Our View

Our railroad accident attorneys in Virginia hope that more railroads will get PTC implemented as soon as they can. It seems wrong that the technology exists right now to greatly reduce the chances of train collisions and derailments – thereby saving many lives – yet many railroads are dragging their feet to install PTC. 

They may think they are saving money by not installing PTC, but as this $60 million verdict shows, a train derailment can be extremely costly for a railroad, both in dollar terms and in terms of its professional reputation.

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.

 

Oregon Train Derailment Caused by Broken Bolts Missed During Inspection

On June 3, a crude oil train derailed in Mosier, Oregon, spilling thousands of gallons of oil and causing local residents to evacuate.

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The 16 car derailment in Oregon was caused by a set of broken bolts that were missed during a routine inspection by a track inspector with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

ODOT recently concluded that several lag bolts that fastened rail lines to the ties had sheared off and rusted over several years. The inspector simply missed them.

The trains are owned by Union Pacific Railroad and its own inspectors passed over those same bolts several times. 

The accident shows that some simple steps could have prevented the derailment. For example, if the inspectors from Union Pacific or from the state government had walked the stretch of track rather than just driven over it in a truck, the accident could have been prevented.

The unseen bolts have exposed what some experts say is a major flaw in national railroad inspections. Federal requirements give the railroad leeway as far as how they inspect the track and government checks are rare.

The Federal Railroad Administration blames Union Pacific for the accident and is considering enforcement action against the company. The FRA stated that broken lag bolts can be spotted by inspectors if they walk the tracks instead of drive. Regulators add that walking the curved sections of track is an especially good idea but Union Pacific does not do so.

The FRA stated after this accident that it expects railroads to go beyond its minimum inspection requirements to ensure track safety.

The railroad industry states that 99% of hazardous material shipments arrive safely, but there have been two dozen crude oil spills by rail on the last few years in North America. Most of them were caused by back track, which highlights the need for safety inspections to be stepped up.

Our View

Our train accident attorneys in Virginia are glad no one was hurt in this oil train derailment. We are very familiar with how railroads will sometimes cut corners to increase profits. We wish that railroads would do a better job with inspecting tracks so that there are fewer serious train derailments.

While inspections cost money, train derailments cost more, and lead to serious injuries and death. We won a $60 million jury verdict in Manassas VA where a train derailed and crashed into a gas station, causing serious brain injuries for a worker there. We eventually proved that Norfolk Southern was responsible for the accident.

 

 

 

FRA Demands Immediate Amtrak Safety Review

The Federal Railroad Administration has directed Amtrak this week to conduct an immediate safety review, due to violations that were revealed in the fatal crash and derailment in Pennsylvania on Sunday.

The FRA told Amtrak this week to do a safety stand down, which is a review of all of its work safety protocols with track workers and train dispatchers.

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In the crash this week, an Amtrak train slammed into a maintenance vehicle on the tracks in Chester PA, which killed two workers.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that a very simple safety device could have prevented the deadly disaster. It is a removable circuit that is made to ‘shunt’ tracks and trigger a red light stop signal. It was not in place, even though Amtrak rules state that it should have been.

Federal investigators are focusing on miscommunication on April 3, as a shift of track workers and supervisors took over for the previous crew. The train that slammed into the backhoe was on an active track that had been ‘fouled’ earlier, meaning that it had been removed from use temporarily because of a chance that workers on the next track could be endangered as they did their work. Investigators are working to determine how the train was allowed to continue through that stretch of track.

The investigation is ongoing, but they have uncovered several violations of safety rules that are troubling enough for the FRA to step in and demand a safety review.

Our train crash attorneys in Virginia truly regret the loss of life in this preventable train crash and derailment. It is sad that it appears that basic safety protocols were not followed by Amtrak that may have led to this deadly collision. How ironic it is that a railroad managed by the US government does not itself apparently follow its own safety rules issued by the FRA.

Our hope is that the cause of the crash is quickly determined, and that the families of the deceased pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible parties. When handled by experienced train accident counsel, a train crash and derailment suit can result in multi-million dollar settlements.

Feds Told Amtrak to Install More Safety Systems Before Deadly Crash

Federal agencies have told Amtrak and other railroads several times over the last few years to use essential back up safety systems for workers on railroad tracks to prevent deadly accidents, as the crash and derailment that just happened in Chester PA this week.

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Sources with information about the Amtrak crash investigation that killed two workers have said that a communication lapse during a shift change may have led to the workers being on the tracks. Meanwhile, safety precautions that are intended to route trains away from those workers were cancelled.

This exact accident scenario has been a regular problem on US railroads, according to a 2014 Federal Railroad Administration report. That report stated that FRA is alarmed at the repeated occurrences of railroad workers being hit by or nearly hit by trains that seem to be due to miscommunications.

FRA stated in the advisory that back up safety systems were needed until positive train control was installed on all trains. While Amtrak has PTC on most trains in the NE corridor of the US, experts still say the system has not eliminated the need for back up safety protocols.

According to NTSB investigators, the Amtrak train slammed into a backhoe on the tracks in Chester PA at over 100 MPH and did not even slow down until five seconds before the crash. The brakes on the train were applied at the last seconds before impact.

The FRA report from 2014 recommended several backup systems where there could be the possibility of a communications break down. One of the devices is worn by workers that would alert them that a train is approaching, and would also warn train engineers of people on the tracks. Another system would be used for track maintenance vehicles.

Our railroad injury lawyers in North Carolina and Virginia are angry that this preventable accident that led to two deaths ever happened. It is the obligation of the railroad to use vital safety procedures and equipment to ensure the safety of workers and train passengers. We hope that the families of the deceased and injured file personal injury lawsuits against the responsible parties because effective counsel could likely win very large settlements or verdicts in this tragic case.

 

Amtrak Train Derails in Kansas – 29 Injured

Five cars on an Amtrak train in Cimarron, Kansas derailed early yesterday morning, sending 29 people to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

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According to Amtrak, the train was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago when it derailed at approximately midnight on Feb. 12.

According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, five cars derailed and were on their side.

Although the cause of the accident is not clear at this point, one of the passengers told the NTSB that she felt the train shaking just before some of the cars derailed.

The NTSB has sent a team to the area to investigate the derailment. We expect that more information will be released about this derailment in the coming days.

Our train accident personal injury attorneys have worked on many passenger injury cases in the past, and we hope that all injured Amtrak passengers in this derailment recover quickly.

One of our attorneys, Richard Shapiro, was the author of 72 American Jurisprudence Trial Treatise, which is found in most US law libraries. It has a great deal to say about railroad and employee safety, which also is relevant in derailment cases such as this one.

According to the treatise on page 38: ‘Track safety is closely related to employee safety. FRA rules establish track safety standards. Track safety standards deal with such issues as operating speed limits, drainage under and adjacent to the roadbed, vegetation posing a fire hazard or visual obstruction, ballast and crosstie requirements, track geometry, rail defects, switches, frogs, and regularly scheduled inspections as frequently as twice a week.’

We are sure that the NTSB will be taking a very close look at the condition of the railroad track in the area of the derailment.

Our train derailment attorneys in Virginia have seen major railroads outsource track maintenance in the past, which can lead to safety problems. For example, CSX has tried to save money by leasing less used railroad tracks to smaller, short line railroads. This means that CSX does not have to maintain the track anymore. This means that CSX can then blame the small railroad for any mishaps that occur.

In cases where the railroad was negligent, we have had success in securing sizable settlements.

Driver Killed When Train Hits SUV in Chicago

Police stated this week that a woman from Arlington Heights IL was killed when her SUV was struck by a commuter train. 

The driver was going southeast on Northwest Highway and was crossing railroad tracks when she was hit by a Union Pacific Northwest train at Euclid Avenue. the SUV caught fire after the crash and was pushed by the train for several blocks. No one else was injured in the crash.

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Our Virginia railroad accident law firm has seen many needless deaths occur at railroad crossings over the years. One of the common problems at railroad crossings is that trees, shrubs and vegetation are not properly maintained and this can lead to obstruction of sight lines.

Our Virginia rail crossing law firm uses retired railroad employees as investigators in incidents such as they above. In this sort of case, we would send investigators to the scene of the crossing. We often represent clients who were hit at a railroad crossing and often can prove that appropriate safety measures were not followed at the railroad crossing.

For example, in one Virginia railroad crossing accident, we sent investigators to the crossing and carefully examined the trees, vegetation and brush around the area. Our client stated that he could not see the train at the crossing until the very last moment. Our railroad accident team studied Virginia common law as well as potential jury instructions and various other circumstances, and made a demand for settlement from the man’s insurance company and also Norfolk Southern. This resulted in a settlement amount in excess of $100,000. 

 

1 Dead After Train Hits Car in Jacksonville FL

One person died in Jacksonville FL when an Amtrak train slammed into an SUV that was straddling the tracks last week, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The police stated that the train hit the Chevrolet Tahoe at approximately 7:20 PM on Jan. 14. The driver of the SUV died after he was taken to a local hospital. According to witnesses, the driver apparently stopped on the tracks due to traffic.

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No passengers or anyone else was injured in the crash. Police continue to investigate the accident.

Our research and experience as railroad accident attorneys in Virginia and North Carolina tells us that 31% of railway fatalities occur at railroad crossings.

Despite what some people think, most train crossing crashes do not occur because the driver was trying to cross the tracks before the train got there. In fact, many railroad crossings are ‘passive’, meaning that they do not have gates or flashing lights. At many of those crossings, the driver is supposed to watch and listen for train. However, many of these railroad crossings have poor visibility. That was the case in one of our train crossing crash cases, where a Norfolk Southern train appeared suddenly and hit our client’s car, which caused serious injuries to his two children.

A study was done of train crossing crashes, and sight obstruction was found to be a problem in 689 crashes, which led to 87 deaths.

Active railroad crossings with flashing lights and gates also can be made to be safer. One problem with them is the warning time may be too long, which makes drivers impatient and they may drive around the gates. Sometimes the gates and flashing lights do not work properly, which opens the possibility of a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.