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NJ Train Engineer Has No Memory of the Crash That Killed 1

The engineer who was running the train in Hoboken NJ that smashed into a busy commuter rail terminal, which killed a woman and injured more than 100, told federal investigators this week that he was only going 10 MPH as he approached the station, but has no memory of the crash. 

The statement from the train engineer, Thomas Gallagher, came as federal investigators discovered that a data recorder on the train that was supposed to record speed and braking data did not work. Investigators say there is a second data recorder but it is under a collapsed part of the station’s roof and they cannot get to it.

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Federal rules require that commuter trains have a functioning recorder in the lead car, and the boxes also are supposed to be inspected each year.

Gallagher stated that he was fully rested and the train was functioning normally last Thursday morning before it crashed. The crash took the life of Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, 34, who was standing on the train platform.

The investigation will continue in the coming weeks, and investigators hope they can get to the second data recorder soon.

Months before this deadly New Jersey train crash, federal rail authorities have found dozens of safety violations in safety audits that focused on NJ Transit’s safety and operations.

Our View

From what the engineer is telling investigators, it is possible that he had some type of medical emergency during the crash. Hopefully this will become clearer in the coming weeks.

If he did have a medical emergency in this tragic train crash with death and personal injury, this points to the need more than ever of Positive Train Control (PTC) on all passenger trains as soon as possible. This is a GPS-based safety system that can prevent over speed derailments and train to train collisions.

PTC could prevent many terrible train crashes and derailments, such as this case with serious personal injury in Virginia that we won a verdict for $60 million.

But there’s also another possible simple explanation of the engineer falling asleep and having no recollection of the circumstances. Many safety experts have called for no less than two operators or engineers of not only commuter railroad trains, but on freight trains and passenger trains.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

FRA Issues Status Updates for Positive Train Control Progress

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. 

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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.

Our View

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. 

 

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.

Amtrak Derailment Kills Two in Philadelphia

Two people died today and 35 injured in an Amtrak train derailment near Philadelphia, when the train slammed into a backhoe that was on the tracks. The train derailed, with seven crew members and 341 passengers on board.

The train was traveling from New York City to Savannah, GA when the lead engine derailed in Chester PA at 8 AM on April 3.

Two men were on or near the backhoe when the train hit it and died at the scene. Both men were Amtrak employees.

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Passengers on the Amtrak derailed train stated that the crash between the train and backhoe caused a large fireball and smoke.

Investigators stated that it was not clear when the backhoe was on the tracks, but Federal Railroad Administration officials were on the scene and were studying the crash.

It is a shame that this entirely preventable train derailment led to loss of life and injuries. While we do not yet know what led to the tragedy, it is most alarming that the employees on the backhoe were Amtrak workers. Amtrak should be much better at communicating between oncoming trains and other company employees. How is it possible that the workers did not know that an Amtrak train was scheduled to come through that section of track at that time?

Amtrak will face multiple liability issues in this train derailment, both for the injuries to passengers and the deaths of these two workers. An experienced and tough railroad accident attorney will be able to ensure that the injured parties’ rights and those of the families of the deceased are properly represented and protected in upcoming litigation in this matter.

 

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.

 

Switchman Who Loses Leg Sues Railroad

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.

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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.

New York Town May Shut Down Deadly Rail Crossing

A small town in Westchester County, NY may shut down the railroad crossing where an SUV driver and five train passengers died in a disastrous railroad crossing crash last year.

The Feb. 3, 2015 train crash prompted the town of of Mount Pleasant NY to study whether vehicle traffic should be diverted from the hazardous railroad crossing at Commerce Street.

The town supervisor noted that this type of major accident indicates that the crossing could simply be too hazardous to remain open. An actual closure of the crossing would require New York state approval.

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The deadly crash happened during rush hour during the week on Metro North’s Harlem line, which runs from Grand Central Station in New York City into Westchester County. It also continues on into nearby Putnam and Dutchess counties.

The crash occurred when the SUV driver stopped on the railroad tracks after she had been diverted from the Taconic State Parkway after another accident.

After the train smashed into the SUV, the third rail that powers the train pierced the floor of the first train car. Also, 12 pieces of rail tore through the car, which caught fire.

More light has been shed on this crash this month, after the NTSB released many of its investigation documents about the likely cause of the crash.

The NTSB documents revealed that the traffic control system at the railroad crossing that controls stoplights was out of compliance with federal guidelines when the crash happened.

This is known as a preemption system, which is supposed to activate traffic lights as trains approach the crossing. The aim is to clear vehicle traffic from railroad tracks and to prevent accidents.

The system was not properly configured to clear track traffic coming from Taconic State Parkway, according to Steve Ditmeyer, a former federal rail official. Ditmeyer now runs a consulting firm in Virginia, and he recently reviewed the NTSB report at The Wall Street Journal’s request.

He noted that the proper stoplight sequence did not occur when the crash happened, but he was not certain if it played a major role in the crash. Since the crash, the preemption system at that crossing has been changed.

Our Virginia and North Carolina personal injury lawyers have represented the families of many train crossing accident victims over the last decade. This experience has provided us with a detailed grasp of why serious injuries and wrongful deaths happen at rail crossings.

If the families of the deceased in this tragic train/car crash want to collect compensation for their pain and suffering, it is important for them to work with the best railroad accident attorney they can. In Virginia, we often retain former railroad workers–who have retired–as investigators, or retain former federal railroad administration experts, and they conduct thorough investigations of railroad crossing crashes or railroad derailments. This work gives our team unique insights into the causes of these mostly preventable accidents. That type of skilled litigation is what helped us to win a recent $1 million settlement in a Virginia train accident.

 

 

 

 

Tired BNSF Employees Complain About 12 Hour Shifts

Some BNSF Railway workers in Whitefish, Montana are warning that they are working 12 hour shits that compromise safety. They claim that the long shifts can lead to extreme fatigue that could cause dangerous situations when hauling hazardous commodities.

One BNSF employee told the media that the company had started a new schedule that has workers working for 12 hours per day, and sometimes for 6-10 days straight.

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That employee stated: “Such a safety sensitive job for engineers and conductors running trains that are up to 17,000 tons, hauling hazardous materials and such.” He added that these tired workers are at work more than at home anymore, and that the railroad is putting its profits.

About 40 employees attended a town hall gathering last week in Whitefish MT, and discussed ongoing problems with the general manager of BNSF in Montana. The major concern by the workers was that the work days are too long with not enough rest.

Some employees talked about having to work long shifts over 12 hours while they waited for the relief crew to show up. Other workers talked about the new system of scheduling that leaves workers unsure which day it is, and which shift they will be covering that day. One employee added that the workers go to the job fatigued and that it is a serious safety issue.

BNSF Railroad spokesperson Matt Jones stated that the company had changed its work scheduling in Whitefish, but that the changes do not affect safety. He noted that hours of service have not altered at all, and that the maximum number of hours worked and required rest periods are set by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Still, worker fatigue is a serious concern, given that it has been found to be the cause of several recent railroad crashes in recent years.

Our railroad accident attorneys are not surprised that BNSF may be pushing the limits on workers so they can make more money. We have worked on many cases in the last decade where rail companies have cut corners that compromised safety in the name of money. Our team has assembled a helpful guide on the Unique Legal Rights Available to All Injured Workers. This could be a helpful guide for you if you are a railroad worker injured on the job.