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More than 6,700 miles of railroad track exist in Virginia, and those tracks cross thousands of driveways, business lots and private roads. Nearly every one of those private railroad crossings lacks the flashing warning lights and automatic gates drivers, bike riders and pedestrians have grown to expect on public roads and highways. In fact, a majority of private railroad crossings are not even marked with stop signs or crossbucks — those black-and-white x-shaped signs that people can see long before they reach a set of tracks.
- Private Railroad Crossing Safety: Reasonable Warnings Required by State Law
- A Virginia Railroad Crossing Injury Lawyer’s Advice on Train-Car Crashes
Still, even as overall freight and passenger rail traffic has increased across the country, the number of collisions at road-level, or grade, crossings has fallen significantly over the past decade. Records kept by the Federal Railroad Administration indicate that 2,041 crashes involving trains going through grade crossings occurred during 2016. Those collisions caused 255 deaths and 843 injuries. A slight uptick in grade crossing crashes occurred in 2017, and deaths and injuries rose to, respectively, 274.
When a collision resulting in deaths or injuries happens at a grade crossing on a public road, the question of which party caused the crash is relatively straightforward. A Virginia personal injury lawyer or wrongful death attorney will ask whether the victim entered the crossing despite seeing warning lights and encountering a lowered gate, or whether the lights and gates worked properly.
Questions over fault at private railroad crossings become much more complicated. First, Virginia law assigns the owner of a grade crossing the legal duty to “take precautions to provide for the safe movement of traffic.” Meeting that duty requires doing things like putting up signs, cutting back vegetation to maintain lines of sight along the tracks, and maintaining the roadbed under the tracks so vehicles do not get stuck. If the crossing owner has failed to do these things, the crossing owner can be held liable for a crash.
Then, the issue of who owns the private crossing arises. Railroads must sign contracts with landowners when the company lays tracks through a home’s yard or a business’ lot. That agreement will assign obligations for maintaining the crossing to either the railroad or the landowner. A Virginia plaintiff’s attorney will need to ask for and review the contract to determine which party owed the duty to protect the victim of the train crash.
Last, the Virginia railroad crossing crash attorney must confront questions related to contributory negligence. Virginia is one of just four states that block insurance claims and personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits when the victim can be found even one percent responsible for causing a crash. A Virginia case that focused on this issue determined that drivers must expect that tracks exist and have reason to believe that a train may be coming in order for a court to find contributory negligence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After the deadly Amtrak wreck in Philadelphia earlier this year that killed five, some lawmakers wanted to see a speed enforcement system implemented right away. However, this week Congress passed a bill that will delay mandates for railroads to add such safety upgrades.
After the derailing in May, the CEO of Amtrak pledged to make the safety upgrades by the end of the year. However, the new bill will delay the upgrades for 3-5 years. Amtrak has stated that they will try to get it done in three years.
A congressman from PA stated this week that it is everyone’s best interest to delay the safety upgrades until it is possible to get them done safely and fully. He added that if Congress decided to penalize the railroad companies now, it would only lead to reduced rail traffic, which would only hurt consumers.
It saddens us, as railroad accident attorneys, that this derailment ever occurred, and it’s even sadder that the necessary safety upgrades to prevent such tragedies are being delayed. We have seen all too many times how railroad companies will sacrifice public safety for profits. Some of these companies simply put the bottom line for shareholders above all else.
A recent case we handled was where a railroad conductor was hurt on a train car due to an insecure, loose side ladder. He had a serious back injury that required surgery, and he could not return to his job. Of course, the railroad denied they had anything to do with the injury. Our team argued that the loose ladder was a regulatory violation, so we did not have to produce any evidence that the railroad knew about the problem ahead of time.
Through the expert testimony of a railroad safety specialist, we showed that relevant safety appliance act regulations had been violated. We reached an $825,000 settlement.
A 16 year-old boy was hit by a train in NW Houston TX last Friday and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police reported that the young man was hit at 8:45 am near West 34th Street and TC Jester in Houston. His body was thrown under a trestle on the bridge that crosses the street White Oak Bayou. Police added that the student was walking on the tracks with a friend.
The other boy ran off the tracks when he saw the train approaching but the other did not seem to hear or understand how close the train was.
When a train goes through a crossing in Texas, the protocol is for the train crew to sound two longer whistles, a short whistle and then another long one as the train goes through the crossing. In an emergency, the crew is supposed to sound the whistle at a different cadence to warn people off the tracks.
Some have questioned if there was a delay when the whistle was sounded, and the incident is being investigated by the Federal Railroad Administration.
Our rail accident legal firm in Virginia has seen many train accidents involving both pedestrians and vehicles. In some cases, the train operator fails to provide sufficient warning to the car or pedestrian and serious injury can result. In other cases, we have seen instances where the driver’s or pedestrian’s view is obstructed by vegetation at a railroad crossing, leading to a serious accident.
Anyone who has a loved one injured or killed on train tracks should ensure that the railroad company was adhering to all regulations at the time of the accident. Negligence on their part can lead to devastating consequences.