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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 Announces $25 Million Funding for Rail Safety Improvements

The Federal Railroad Administration has started to take applications from local governments, states and railroads for $25 million in grants to fund their railroad safety efforts.

Applicants can ask for funds for safety upgrades to railroad crossings, tracks, tunnels, yards, bridges, etc. The grants have been made available under the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

According to US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, as the population of the US grows, rail is playing a bigger role in moving people and freight around the US. “To do that safely, we must invest in our rail infrastructure,” he said last week.

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FRA stated that it would accept railroad safety funding applications until June 14.

Our railroad accident attorneys are pleased that FRA is making these funds available to upgrade railroad safety in America. Our railroad accident lawyers have represented many clients who have suffered serious injuries, or their loved ones have even died, in various types of railroad accidents.

Whenever we see the federal government improving railroad crossings it certainly is a positive, especially for railroad crossing safety. However, when a railroad that owns the tracks that run over those highway crossings is sued because of injury or death, that’s the moment that the railroad claims that they have very little or no responsibility whatsoever. What most consumers may find surprising is that the railroads often receive money from state or federal government for lights or gates at crossings and do everything they can to avoid paying for them.
Even in the face of prior injuries or deaths at the crossing, the railroads who operate on the tracks argue that it should not be their responsibility to pay for gates or lights because the public has built a highway across their Railroad right-of-way. Their position, often overlooked by the public, is that it is local, state or federal government that should improve the safety of motorists traveling across the railroad crossing.
This type of multiple party responsibility is exactly what makes civil injury or death litigation at railroad crossings complex. Indeed, most states have variable or different jury instructions in these types of cases that dictate the railroad’s responsibility at a railroad crossing collision.

Many people do not know that the railroad company that uses that crossing is responsible for maintaining the safety of the crossing. The safety gates must work and flashing lights must be operational, and all vegetation and grass needs to be regularly cut away from the tracks to not obscure driver vision.

A good railroad accident attorney with experience in the state in which the accident occurred can be invaluable in recovering damages in a lawsuit. For example, our railroad accident lawyers bring in retired railroad workers to investigate railroad crossing accidents. Using their expert testimony, we have been able to prove in some cases that appropriate precautions were not taken at some railroad crossings.

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.