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Ex-Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Chief Sarah Feinberg was in the job for only weeks in 2015 when a commuter train slammed into an SUV stopped on the tracks just north of New York City. Six people died in the train crash.
That Feburary 2015 train crossing accident highlighteed a problem that has been with the railroad industry for more than a century: the danger when railroad tracks and roads meet.
Feinberg was a former Obama White House advisor who did not have railroad industry experience, and her appointment got plenty of criticism. She sought a new way of thinking regarding keeping the country’s 240,000 railroad crossings safe. Signals, signs, lights and bells are useful, but what if better technology could prevent many railroad crossing accidents?
Fenberg, who left the job as FRA commissioner with Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, truly tried to embrace her outsider status in the railroad industry.
In a recent interview, she said that she tried to hold railroads accountable when they did wrong. She also said that she had the FRA aggressively policy safety violations; the agency was able to close cases at a higher rate and collect more fine money each year than previous commissioners.
Progress After Tragedy
After the New York City commuter train tragedy, another train derailed near Philidelphia, killing eight. Feinberg pushed railroads to install positive train control (PTC) technology that would use GPS navigation systems to automatically slow trains if one was getting into a dangerous situation.
The technology had long been avaialble, but railroads had slow walked adopting it due to the cost. The industry convinced Congress to delay PTC implementation until 2018, but Feinberg fought back and would not accept any more delays. PTC will begin to be installed in 2018.
Feinberg hopes that the next FRA commissioner will continue to push for new technologies to reduce the number of train crashes and derailments each year.
Our train crash personal injury attorneys in Virginia are glad that ex-FRA Commissioner Sarah Feinberg was such a strong advocate for PTC technology. Our attorneys have been advocating for this technology for years. There is no doubt that PTC can reduce the number of deadly train crossing accidents and derailments that happen every year.
Our railroad crash attorneys know very well the terrible consequences that can unfold in a train derailment. We worked on a record-setting $60 million verdict in a train derailment case in 2000. It involved a gas station attendent who was severely injured when a Norfolk Southern train derailed and crashed into his station.
PTC could prevent those types of tragic railroad accidents, and that is why we so strongly support it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg stated that the new rule should help passenger railroads increase their safety over the next several years.
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.
On June 3, a crude oil train derailed in Mosier, Oregon, spilling thousands of gallons of oil and causing local residents to evacuate.
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 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.
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.
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.