California Teenager Struck and Killed by Train

A 16-year-old boy was recently struck and killed by a train as he tried to cross railroad tracks in Merced, California (16-year-old boy hit and killed by train in Merced, police say). Merced Police said teenager Devonea Graham was crossing the tracks with his two younger siblings when he was killed.

Rosalinda Vega’s 13-year-old son was killed in an extremely similar situation in 2019. “Anyone who has not lost a child could never possibly understand the pain and the change that that takes on life,” Vega said.

Both Graham and Vega’s son were on their way home from school when they were struck by the trains. The stretch of train tracks run near two schools, but the tracks are not blocked off in any way and is easily accessible to children.

Individuals killed while crossing train tracks are certainly not limited to children Just three weeks prior to Graham’s death, a 50-year-old woman was also struck and killed by a train in Merced.

According to statistics compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), pedestrian railroad incidents are a leading cause of death on United States railways. On average, three pedestrians are killed or injured on American railroad tracks every day, and more than 10,000 pedestrians have been killed by trains in the U.S. since 1997. There are approximately 500 train track fatalities across the country each year.

The railroad industry is more than happy to make money by traveling through local communities, but the industry is not willing to spend any of that money to ensure that these communities are safe. If the railroads refuse to make the areas of their track that they know are routinely accessed by pedestrians safer, then they should be held accountable for any tragedies that result.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a railroad crossing accident, it is crucial that you hire an experienced personal injury attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

 

Railroad Crossing Collision Creates Huge Fireball

A recent collision at a railroad crossing between a train and a tractor-trailer in Cameron, Texas, sent a huge fireball and giant cloud of thick black smoke into the sky (Massive fireball after train, 18-wheeler collision burns down barn, leaves several families’ homes heat-damaged).  

The incident could have caused far greater damage had the fire reached any of the train cars transporting hazardous material. “There were some hazardous materials a little farther back, so by the grace of God we were saved on that one,” said Milam County Sheriff Chris White.

Ten of the BNSF Railway cars were hauling coke coal, plastic pellets, gasoline, and fiberglass. Despite the strong possibility of contamination, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality did not detect any volatile or organic compounds in the air or nearby bodies of water.

Approximately 13 of the 110 railway cars derailed, five of which contained gasoline that exploded and caught fire. “It sounded like a tanker, like a pressure cooker, like ‘psh ka-boom!’” said Mark Tyhusrt, who lives near the train tracks. “Big giant flames at least 100 feet in the air.”

Data collected in a federal railroad crossing report indicates that there have been four collisions at the crossing since 1984, the last two both in 2016. A train crashed into a tractor-trailer that had stalled on the tracks on May 18, 2016, and less than two months later on July 2, 2016, a train struck a pickup truck. 

The explosion caused a nearby house to burn down, but fortunately no one was injured. Still, it is only a matter of time before there is another collision occurs at the crossing. Despite multiple incidents, the railroad has refused to take additional steps to make sure the crossing is safe, particularly for trains carrying hazardous materials. As is usually the case, the railroad has refused to act despite multiple tragedies at the crossing.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a railroad crossing collision, it is crucial that you hire an experienced personal injury attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

 

FRA Issues Railroad Crossing Final Rule

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), an agency in the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), recently adopted a final rule mandating the development and implementation of highway-rail grade crossing action plans to improve public safety in 40 states and the District of Columbia (FRA Publishes Final Rule for State Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Action Plans). The rule also compels the remaining 10 states, which previously implemented grade crossing action plans under the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), to update their action  plans and submit reports reflecting those updates to the FRA. 

“Grade crossing accidents and incidents are the second leading cause of rail-related deaths in the United States, but nearly every one of them is preventable,” FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory said. “The action plans give states a tool to engage with federal and local partners, railroads, and rail safety advocates to identify high risk crossings and develop strategies to save lives.”

The rule is supported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). “Safety is imperative to FHWA, especially where roads and rails meet,” FHWA Administrator Nicole R. Nason said. “These action plans can help states make highway-rail grade crossings safer for the traveling public.”

The FRA’s final rule is a response to the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which requires states to develop, implement, or update grade crossing action plans. Each state’s plan must identify railroad crossings that:

  • have had at least one accident or incident in the previous three years, 
  • have had multiple accidents or incidents in the previous five years, or 
  • are determined to be at high-risk for accidents or incidents. 

Each action plan must lay out detailed strategies making railroad crossings safer, including closing particularly dangerous crossings or rebuilding roadways over or under railways.

In 2010, the RSIA required 10 states with the most highway-rail grade crossing accidents (Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio, and Texas) to develop action plans for approval by the FRA. Under the FAST Act, each of those states must now submit updated plans to the FRA describing their ongoing progress in lowering crossing safety risks.

Within 14 months after the publication of this final rule, all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with technical assistance provided by the FRA, must submit their individual highway-rail grade crossing action plans. The FHWA’s Railway-Highway Crossing (Section 130) Program also provides federal funds to help states create their action plans.

Other than cost, there is nothing stopping the railroad industry from reducing crossing accidents to near zero. Unfortunately, as long as the railroad industry continues to care more about profits than public safety, the federal government will be forced to keep issuing regulations making highway-rail grade crossings safer. 

If you or a loved one have been injured  or killed in a railroad crossing collision, it is crucial that you hire an experienced personal injury attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

FRA Announces Continuous Rail Testing

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), an agency in the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), recently posted a final rule in the Federal Register allowing railroads to utilize ultrasonic inspection technology, supported by global positioning systems (GPS), to perform continuous rail testing (Federal Railroad Administration Announces Rail Inspection Technology Rule to Improve Track Safety).

These new regulations are intended to improve railroad safety through more frequent rail testing, resulting in the identification and repair of internal flaws before rail conditions have degradedThis rule will allow railroads to use the latest technology to continually monitor safety, which is a big step forward in strengthening safety and reliability on our nation’s railroads,” United States Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao said. 

Under this regulatory reform, rail testing vehicles will be able to move along the track without stopping, leading to fewer passenger and freight train delays caused by routine inspections. Due to rapidly changing technologies, regulators must continually modify regulations to ensure public safety, while also allowing railroads to employ innovative inspection methods. 

Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao is a strong advocate for safety through innovation, said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “These modernized standards will allow railroads to implement innovative inspection methods without the burden of applying for individual waivers with well-established safety records.

Larger railroads have been developing and utilizing this technology under FRA waivers for the past 10 years, leading to a 27% reduction in broken rail-caused train accidents. It is hoped that allowing all railroads to use this technology will improve the overall safety record of the industry

Under current regulations, ultrasonic rail test vehicles have to repeatedly stop and manually inspect possible defects. Because of this frequent starting and stopping, trains operating in the area are forced to travel at slower speeds, leading to passenger and freight traffic delays

Companies utilizing existing methods are generally capable of testing only about 20 miles of track a day. In contrast, companies are able to test 80 to 160 miles of track daily using continuous rail testing

It is important for the FRA to continue to rely on improving technology to help achieve its mission of enabling “the safe, reliable, and efficient movement of people and goods for a strong America, now and in the future.” Because the railroad industry will always prioritize profits, railroad safety can only be assured through economic efficiency created by technological innovation.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

NTSB Issues Final Report on NY Railroad Death

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently issued its final report regarding the 2017 death of a railroad roadway worker who was struck and killed by a train in Queens Village, New York (Improperly Used Train Approach Warning Led to New York Railroad Worker’s Death).

The accident happened when a Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train encountered a crew of roadway workers, accompanied by a watchman, in the Queens Interlocking. Upon observing the train’s approach, the watchman sounded a handheld horn, shouted to the other workers, and raised a paddle to signal the LIRR’s engineer to activate the train’s horn. Despite these warnings, a worker stepped into the path of the oncoming train, which was traveling 78 mph, and was killed.

In its report, the NTSB found the train approach warning method especially dangerous for the crew in this situation for the following reasons:

  • multiple tracks at the interlocking
  • trains operating at high speeds in both directions
  • limited areas to clear trains
  • increased train traffic due to the Belmont Stakes

The NTSB concluded that the watchman should have provided timely warning of approaching trains so that all workers could completely clear the tracks before the train’s arrival.

Using the train approach warning method, LIRR management did not properly assess the hazards the roadway workers were exposed to while conducting their tasks,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said. “If adopted, the recommendations highlighted in this report can help to mitigate the risks associated with this work and provide better protection to workers across all railroads.”

Overtime work schedules without proper mitigation of workers’ risk of fatigue also contributed to the accident. The deceased and the watchman had both worked consecutive overtime shifts during the 48-hour period prior to the accident.

The NTSB issued five safety recommendations:

  • roadway worker protection
  • roadway worker on-track safety briefings
  • management oversight
  • FRA oversight
  • worker fatigue

The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families. Their final report can be found at https://go.usa.gov/xvMcv.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

NTSB Announces Cause of Fatal Amtrak Crash

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently announced the cause of the fatal Amtrak passenger train derailment in Dupont, Washington, on December 18, 2017 (Inadequate Planning, Insufficient Training Led to Fatal Amtrak Train Derailment). According to the NTSB, the train careened off a railroad bridge onto a crowded highway due to insufficient training of a locomotive engineer and inadequate mitigation of a dangerous curve.

On its initial run on the Point Defiance Bypass connecting Seattle and Portland, an Amtrak Cascades train approached a 30-mph curve on an overpass at approximately 78 miles per hour.    The train derailed and fell onto an interstate highway, landing on eight vehicles. Three train passengers were killed and 65 more people were injured.

This is the third fatal overspeed passenger train derailment the NTSB has investigated since 2013,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said. “All three have the same thing in common: each could have been prevented by Positive Train Control. This is why Positive Train Control is on the NTSB’s 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. The deadline for full implementation of PTC is rapidly approaching and the NTSB continues to advocate for the expedited implementation of this life-saving technology.”

During a public meeting in May of 2019, the NTSB noted that the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority did not account for the danger associated with a curve requiring such a large decrease in speed. Positive Train Control, technology specifically designed to prevent overspeed derailments, was not employed by the railroad.

Although not required by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the train was equipped with an image recorder that allowed investigators to analyze the activities of crewmembers prior to the accident. The NTSB issued 26 safety recommendations to the FRA, the Washington State Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of Transportation, Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, and the United States Department of Defense. 

Although the NTSB is fulfilling part of its duties by investigating these railroad accidents and issuing safety recommendations, it is long past time to require more proactive measures from the railroads themselves. The railroad industry’s focus on maximizing their own profits should not stop the NTSB from requiring them to install Positive Train Control on all of their trains.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

Supreme Court: Lost Railroad Wages Are Taxable

The United States Supreme Court recently held that payments to an injured employee for lost wages are taxable compensation under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) (High Court Calls Lost Wages Taxable in 7-2 Railway Ruling). The Court ruled 7-2 in favor of the railroad iBNSF Railway Company v. Loos, allowing the withholding of part of the employee’s lost wages to cover RRTA taxes.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion cited the 1946 decision Social Security Bd. v. Nierotko, which held that an award of back pay to an employee constituted wages under the Social Security Act. Our decision in Nierotko undermines Loos’s argument that, unlike sick pay and vacation pay, payments ‘compensat[ing] for an injury,’ are not taxable under the RRTA,” Ginsburg wrote. “Applying that reasoning here, there should be no dispositive difference between a payment voluntarily made and one required by law.”

In a somewhat surprising development, the liberal wing of the Court was joined by new Republican appointee Brett Kavanaugh in a decision that favored a huge railroad company at the expense of the little guy. And in another twist, Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by the ultra-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, penned a dissent defending the employee against the railroad behemoth.

While Ginsburg seems to have accepted BNSF’s claim that a ruling in its favor would help ensure the solvency of the federal railroad retirement system, Gorsuch notes that paying more in taxes now will ultimately allow BNSF to pay less to injured employees. “Railroads like BSNF can now sweeten their settlement offers while offering less money,” Gorsuch wrote. “Employees will pay a tax for going to trial – and railroads will succeed in buying cheaper settlements in the future at the bargain basement price of a few thousand dollars in excise taxes in one case today.”

Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has generally been friendly to business and hostile to workers. The recent appointments by President Trump should only be expected to make things worse. But this case shows that you can’t always count on even the liberal justices to fight for the rights of workers against big business. If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is critical that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.

NTSB Holds Hearings on Amtrak Crashes

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently held investigative hearings to review the circumstances that led to fatal Amtrak railroad accidents in Washington and South Carolina (NTSB hearing focuses on railroad safety following two fatal Amtrak crashes). Federal safety investigators sought to identify safety improvements that could prevent future railroad accidents.

The hearings were not intended to determine the cause of these specific accidents, but instead to give the NTSB the opportunity to gather information to help prevent future tragedies. “We are all here for the same reason – to stop these,” said NTSB member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr.

In December 2017, an Amtrak train on its first run from Seattle to Portland crashed on a sharp curve, killing three and injuring over 100. The train was traveling 78 mph in a 30 mph zone. Then in February 2018, an accident involving an Amtrak passenger train and a CSX freight train killed two and injured 116 because of a misaligned railroad switch.

After the accidents, the NTSB recommended that federal railroad officials issue emergency orders mandating trains to slow down when signals are disabled and to verify that switches are in the right place before continuing. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has yet to act on the order. “We are curious to know where the FRA is going with this,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “We do not believe that just having people on the ground to verify that [the switch] is in the proper position is the be all end all.”

Sumwalt questioned whether railroad companies were more interested in profits than passenger and employee welfare, noting that shareholder reports emphasize efficiency and earnings and ignore safety. Amtrak responded that it is committed to safety. “One of the lessons we’ve learned is establishing systemwide standards,” said Justin Meko, Amtrak’s vice president for safety, compliance, and training.

It is certainly no secret that giant corporations such as railroad companies regularly choose profits over the safety of the American people, but it is encouraging that the NTSB is at least attempting to make them change their focus after these horrible accidents. If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is vital that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ

CSX’s Commitment to Safety Questioned after Derailment

After a series of railroad mishaps, CSX Transportation recently announced it was dedicating its resources to a renewed focus on safety. The railroad industry giant obtained the services of Dekra, a transportation safety firm, to analyze its operations and provide a report with recommendations for improving its safety performance.

Unfortunately, before the report could be issued, a CSX train derailed in Indiana, creating a propane fire and explosion that caused a mandatory evacuation within a one-mile radius. The incident has caused some to question CSX’s true commitment to safety (Princeton train derailment casts new doubts about CSX’s safety culture).

CSX is accused of emphasizing efficiency at the expense of safety through a process called “precision scheduled railroading,” which has led to fewer, but considerably longer, trains and the elimination of thousands of jobs. According to some CSX employees, the company’s fixation with running on time has compromised its ability to live up to its own safety standards.

CSX employees claim that:

  • Workers are pressured to skip safety checks to ensure trains are on time
  • Managers approve nonexistent inspections because delays could cost them their jobs
  • Lower level workers are forced to take the blame whenever safety issues arise

Although its competitors have seen their accident rates fall over the last few years, CSX has seen their accident rate continue to increase. A South Carolina collision between Amtrak and CSX trains earlier this year killed two and injured 116.

“That accident was very much of a ‘safety culture’ thing,” said former Federal Railroad Administration director Steven Ditmeyer. “There were multiple failures there. I view that as very much related to a deteriorated safety culture.”

As you might expect, CSX defended its commitment to safety. “There is no higher priority than safety at CSX. Nothing is placed above it,” CSX spokeswoman Laura Phelps said. “Our goal is to be the safest railroad.”

Railroads are always going to provide lip service to the idea of safety. But until they put their money where their mouth is and prioritize safety at the expense of profits, America’s railroad workers and passengers will continue to be at risk.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is vital that you hire an experienced attorney. P

CSX Railroads Sacrifice Safety for Efficiency

According to a recent article in the Jacksonville Business Journal, railroad industry giant CSX Corporation broke its own efficiency records last quarter (After expensive quarter of train accidents, CSX safety concerns return). Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, CSX’s efficiency increases came at the expense of safety.

CSX implemented precision scheduled railroading in 2017, resulting in the termination of over 4,000 employees. Divisional dispatch supervisors, each representing different sections of the country, were replaced by only two people, a western dispatch supervisor and an eastern dispatch supervisor.

These cutbacks have led to a decline in the railroad’s safety performance, according to at least one dispatcher, because the now-overburdened supervisors pass down the work they can’t finish to the already-swamped dispatchers. “I can’t do my job because I’m doing reports and clerical work and answering emails,” the dispatcher said. “The managers and chiefs are so strapped, they’re making us do it.”

CSX argues, however, that the changes it has made were intended to provide an upgrade to railroad safety. “CSX’s recent management reorganization was a strategic decision to improve safety, service, and shareholder value,” said a CSX spokesperson.

But several dispatchers responded that the additional workload was “distracting” and “a safety hazard” preventing them from doing their primary job of monitoring nearly 1,000 miles of track. “In an environment where we are protecting the lives of crews and the public,” one dispatcher said, “there is too much emphasis placed on [clerical work].”

Charles Culver, a railroad operations consultant at Charles L. Culver & Associates, agreed that dispatchers already have more than enough to do without adding additional duties, comparing their importance to that of air traffic controllers. “To eliminate positions and increase the amount that dispatchers are doing is a safety concern in my opinion,” said Culver, who was a railroad engineer and conductor for 25 years. “These railroaders have their lives in the hands of dispatchers.”

According to statistics compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration, accidents involving CSX railroads in the last quarter produced the most monetary damage in at least five years. Despite CXS’s claims to the contrary, once again one of the giants of the railroad industry has sacrificed safety in its never-ending quest for greater profits.

If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is vital that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.