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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.
A railroad crossing accident that killed a 74-year-old woman in Edinburgh, Indiana is sparking new worries about crossing safety across the state.
The woman, Sharon Gobin, was killed after her car was hit by a train that was rolling through downtown Edinburgh at 1 PM on November 20. The accident is still under investigation, but it has been confirmed that the crossing lights were flashing when the crash happened.
However, the accident is renewing efforts by some residents to have better safety features at many crossings along the Louisville-Indiana Railroad. Recent upgrades to rail lines have allowed trains to up their speed from 25 MPH to 49 MPH. The 49 MPH speed limit applies to downtown Edinburgh.
Over the last 24 months, community leaders and mayors have tried to get the US government to force the rail company to upgrade safety features at crossings south of Indianapolis. The mayor of Edinburgh and officials from other towns in the area were able to obtain $5.4 million in funding to pay for better warning signals and related safety features at 20 railroad crossings in Johnson County, Indiana. But that money is not going to be available until 2022. Trains have already up their speeds to 49 MPH, so there are serious concerns that more fatal crashes will happen.
Town officials also noted that they are concerned about the higher speeds allowed at crossings, as well as the limited visibility at several crossings, including the one where Gobin died last month.
There are nearly 300 people killed at railroad crossings in the United States every year. That is nearly one death per day. Our railroad accident personal injury attorneys in Virginia think that that number could be reduced substantially if there were better safety features at more railroad crossings across the country.
Another major problem with many railroad crossings is poor visibility. It is very common for vegetation and trees to grow up around railroad crossings that make it difficult for drivers to see oncoming trains. It is the railroad’s responsibility to ensure that this vegetation has been cut back, but they do not always do so. One of the railroad crossing accidents our Virginia personal injury attorneys handled once involved a man who stated that he could not see the train until the last minute. In that case, we made a demand for settlement from the driver’s insurance company and also from Norfolk Southern. That case was settled for $50,000 and $29,000 against the insurance company, and $32,000 and $22,000 against Norfolk Southern.
Reports from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) show that a Cleveland, Ohio train crossing is one of the most dangerous in the United States.
The FRA report states that the crossing is at the 8200 block of Bessemer Avenue in Cleveland. The report indicates that the crossing is in the top 15 of railroad crossings in the US with 12 or more accidents in the last decade.
According to nationally recognized railroad safety expert Bob Comer, FRA reports show that 34 accidents have occurred at the crossing since 1980. There was a collision between a car and Amtrak train in December 2015 that had several minor injuries.
Comer noted that Norfolk Southern appears to be in compliance with federal safety standards, but there are still accidents at the crossing for several reasons. He stated that the crossing may need to be redesigned as there is a jog in the road, and there is also a rise in elevation at the crossing. Further there are industrial properties all around the crossing and high brush and trees that affect visibility.
He also stated that there is not enough signage warning about poor visibility at the crossing. Comer suggested that adding a traffic light at the crossing would greatly improve safety. The light would correlate with trains approaching.
According to the Cleveland councilman for that district, the intersection does need more safety measures.
Our railroad accident personal injury attorneys in Virginia know that line of sight is critically important at railroad crossings. Drivers need to be able to see if a train is coming before they begin to go through a railroad crossing. If their ability to see down the railroad tracks is affected, it can be dangerous to make the crossing.
Many railroad crossings have warning lights and bells to tell motorists that a train is coming. It is not clear if these are featured at the crossing in Cleveland, but clearly, there are line of sight issues and a lack of signs that warn of poor visibility.
Foliage growing around railroad tracks is one of the most common line of sight issues. If brush and trees are not properly cut back, it can lead to serious accidents. Our Virginia railroad accident attorneys hope that improvements are made to this railroad crossing soon to prevent further accidents.
Our railroad crossing accident attorneys have seen cases where poor visibility led to an accident at a railroad crossing. While a sizable settlement was reached, we would like to see fewer of these accidents in the future as localities do more to ensure full visibility at railroad crossings.
A 59 year old man was killed on March 12 in Longmeadow, Massachusetts when his work truck was struck at a railroad crossing by an Amtrak plow train.
The death of the man at the railroad crossing has brought up many worries and complaints from many in the community. Many feel that there should be additional safety features at that railroad crossing, which is in Longmeadow at the crossing on Bernie and Pondside Road.
There is a stop sign at the railroad crossing and a railroad crossing sign. However, residents say the lack of traffic signals or gate arms are a serious danger at the crossing. Most of the other crossings in the area have those safety features.
There have been other ftal crashes at this crossing, and now the Longmeadow town manager is talking about adding those safety measures at the crossing.
He noted that the Department of Public Utilities in Massachusetts has the responsibility and authority to add safety features.
Safety at railroad crossings has improved substantially over the years. Back in 1981, there were 728 deaths at US railroad crossings. That had fallen to 233 by 2015, despite the substantial growth in the US population.
However, in 2016, the total number of deaths at US railroad crossings climbed to 265. Our railroad accident personal injury attorneys hope that this increase is temporary and is not a trend.
Our railroad accident attorneys have seen in past railroad accident lawsuits that serious personal injuries and deaths can occur at railroad crossings.
It is important to realize that while drivers and pedestrians have responsibility to stop at these crossings, there are many federal regulations in play at railroad crossings, and sometimes one of the stakeholders could be in violation of a law or rule that leads to an unsafe crossing.
Federal regulations, for example, set rules for when a train must blast its horn when approaching a crossing. Federal rules further dictate how trees, shrubs and vegetaation must be cut at a railroad crossing to ensure visibility.
The federal rules for railroad crossings are largely laid out in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and another set of standards is issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA).
If you or a loved one have been injured or killed at a rail road crossing, it is important to understand that railroad crossing accidents are very complex. In the case of personal injury or wrongful death at railroad crossings, we employ retired railroad workers as investigators to get to the bottom of the case.
Many people who are seriously injured or killed at railroad crossings are entitled to substantial financial settlements due to negligence on the part of a stakeholder, such as the railroad or the local authority that maintains the crossing.
A man in Oswasso, Oklahoma is blaming faulty railroad lights and gates for him slamming into a train on Feb. 1, causing himself minor injuries and serious damage to his car.
Witnesses say that they were not surprised that the lights were allegedly not working and gates not functioning. Some say that it is a frequent occurence when trains roar through.
A local business owner in Oswasso next to the train tracks stated that trains come through all the time; other witnesses said that when the police came after the railroad crossing crash, the lights were not functioning at the crossing.
Several hours after the crash, railroad workers were working at the crossing. Sometimes the lights were on, but not apparently when they should have been.
The railroad company stated that there was maintenance scheduled on the crossing soon, but it would not say if that was why the lights may have not been working.
According to Operation Life Saver, a rail safety education website, 244 people died in railroad crossing wrecks in 2015, and 967 were injured. However, there has been progress: Railroad crossing deaths have declined by 38% in the period from 2004 to 2013.
Still, railroad crossing accidents can be very severe because of the sheer size and weight of trains. Our railroad crossing accident attorneys have worked on many railroad crossing cases in the last 10 years.
We once represented a driver in Prince William County, Virginia who was hit by a Norfolk Southern train. He and his two children were fortunately not killed but were seriously injured.
Our train accident law firm brought civil claims on behalf of the man and his two children.
Our attorneys did a substantial investigation of the railroad crossing accident. We found that the train crew had not acted in an unlawful manner and we also looked closely at the vegetation around the railroad crossing.
This was a concern because the man had stated that he did not see the train until seconds before impact.
We examined the common laws of Virginia and we demanded a settlement from the insurance policy of the driver and also demanded settlement from Norfolk Southern.
There was a satisfactory result for this train accident case that we handled.
In the above case in Oklahoma, it should be investigated why there are reports that the crossing gates and lights were not functioning when the crash occurred. Also, the fact that the railroad company had scheduled maintenance at the crossing could be a critical factor.
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.
A woman in Greenbrier, Tennessee was airlifted to a local hospital on November 2 when her car was hit by a train at a local railroad crossing.
The accident happened at 5 am on November 2 in Greenbriar at the Wilson St. crossing. According to the local chief of police, the woman was in critical condition with serious railroad crossing accident injuries when she was taken to the hospital.
Earlier in 2016, all of the railroad crossings in Greenbrier City were assinged a risk analysis score, and two of them were slated for improvements. It is not known if the Wilson St. crossing was scheduled for improvements.
Railroad crossing accidents usually involve very serious injuries, and often death. Thousands of Americans die at railroad crossings annually across the country. In fact, the Federal Railroad Administration states that cars and trains collide every 12 minutes!
As railroad crossing accident attorneys in Virginia and North Carolina, we have seen railroad crossing accidents that happened for many reasons. In many cases, the local police department just take the word of the railroad and blame the car driver for any accident at a railroad crossing. However, there are some railroad accidents where the car driver was not at fault.
Common railroad accident causes that we have seen in our personal injury lawsuit cases are:
- Maintenanace problems: Sometimes a train can have defective brakes or a problem with the controls. Also, there can be vegetation that has grown up around the tracks and this prevents the car driver from seeing the oncoming train.
- Sleepy train engineer: Human factors, including drowsy engineers, cause 35% of car train accidents. Some engineers are overworked and they fall asleep on the job.
- Train engineer is distracted: Some train operators are busy talking or texting on a cell phone, and they are not watching the tracks while the train is in motion.
- Safety gate problems: Sometimes safety gates malfunction and stay up, even when the train is rolling through the crossing.
If your car is hit by a train at a railroad crossing, never make the assumption that it was your fault. This is often not the case at all. We recently represented a driver whose car was hit by a train in Prince William County, Virginia, and we were able to settle the cases for approximately $130,000. This was significant, because his children were injured in the car-train accident and needed medical care to recover.
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.
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.
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.
A railroad crossing in Halifax PA where new mother Trisha Hoffman died on Sept. 4 has been termed ‘seriously deficient’ by two railway experts interviewed in early September by PennLive.com.
Pennsylvania state law does not require that drivers stop at all railroad crossings. They only must stop for flashing lights, gates, or if they know a train is oncoming.
The problem with that railroad crossing at Susqeuhanna Trail Road and Route 147 in Halifax is that it is very difficult for drivers to see that a train is oncoming before it is almost on top of you. That is the opinion of Gus Ubaldi, an airport and railroad engineering expert with Robson Forensic in Lancaster PA.
That railroad crossing also has no stop or yield sign, even though it is recommended by nationally accepted standards for railroad crossings.
Norfolk Southern Railroad uses that track and crossing, but it told PennLive.com that the crossing is public, so that the Public Utility Commission of PA should determine signage and other requirements for it. However, it was determined that the crossing is actually private according to the Federal Rail Administration, so Norfolk Southern would be responsible for safety concerns.
According to Ubaldi, a driver on Susquenhanna Trail Road has to see a train 732 ft. down the railroad track from 70 feet before the car reaches the crossing. But at this crossing where the woman perished, the driver approaching the crossing cannot see anything other than trees and brush. When the driver is able to see a train approaching, the car would already be over the tracks.
Ubaldi stated that in his expert opinion, the deceased driver was not at fault
Our railroad crossing accident attorneys truly regret the loss of in this tragic railroad crossing accident. Railroad accidents obviously can lead to serious personal injury and death if crossings are unsafely maintained. From the coverage of this Pennsylvania railroad crossing accident, it would appear that Norfolk Southern may not have properly maintained the crossing, leading to a railroad crossing death.
Railroad crossings must have proper sight lines for drivers, with bushes, brush and trees properly cut away from the tracks. If the railroad crossing was improperly maintained, the railroad could potentially be held liable in a wrongful death lawsuit. Our attorneys have worked on million dollar railroad crossing accident settlements before, and we hope this young woman’s family considers all of their legal options carefully.
Changes have not yet been made to a railroad crossing in Oakland KY that saw a local man lose his life in a train-car accident in early August 2016. And State Rep. Michael Meredith has taken notice.
Meredith stated recently that the crossing makes it too easy for a train to sneak up on the driver. He noted that you have to be almost over the railroad track before you can look down the line to see if a train is coming.
He added that there have been two fatalities at that railroad crossing in the last five years. He is pushing the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to look at this area of the track.
Railroad crossings across Kentucky are reviewed every few years, but only five crossings per year usually receive funding for any upgrades.
Railroad crossing accidents are not always the fault of the driver. As a railroad crossing accident personal injury lawyer, I know that railroad companies do not always maintain the railroad crossing as carefully as they should. Sometimes, vegetation will grow up around the railroad track and make it difficult for the driver to see an oncoming train.
Our railroad accident attorneys represented a client in Prince William County VA a few years ago. His vehicle was struck by a Norfolk Southern freight train. The children in the back seat had various injuries, including one who had a skull fracture around his eye.
We examined the scene of the accident, noting that the car driver had stated he had no chance to see the train and could not have avoided the accident. We noted the vegetation, trees and brush at the railroad crossing. We demanded a settlement from the father’s insurance company and also from Norfolk Southern. It settled for approximately $125,000.