On Tuesday, March 7 a bus carrying senior citizens became high-centered while attempting to navigate a railroad crossing and was struck by an oncoming train. The collision with the freight train ended with four seniors dead and many more injured. Read more about the accident here.
This bus wreck is the second time this year a vehicle has been struck by a train after getting stuck high-centered on the railroad tracks at the Main Street crossing in Biloxi. In January, a Pepsi delivery truck got high-centered on the crossing and was struck by a train. What did the railroad track owner, CSX, do in response? Apparently nothing.
Who creates the humped crossing, and who is responsible for ensuring that the railroad crossing is smooth so that vehicles, including delivery trucks and tour buses, don’t get stuck? Is it the city? Is it the county? Is it the railroad?
A federal appeals court in February, 2017 looked at this precise question in a factually similar case in which a truck was stuck high-centered on a crossing and later struck by a train in western Oklahoma. The court found that the railroad was responsible for maintaining the grade and angle of the roadway over the entire span of the railroad’s property (usually 50 feet on both sides of the crossing). BNSF Railway Company v. C.A.T. Construction, Inc., 2017 WL 563066 (10th Cir., Feb. 13, 2017).
As the railroads build up its tracks over time this causes the crossings to get higher and higher over the roadway. Because of this practice of raising tracks, the railroad is responsible for the ensuing steep angle that is created. Thus, a railroad is liable if it built up the tracks at a crossing. When vehicles then get high-centered on the crossing, major accidents and deaths are bound to occur. Similar law could apply in Mississippi, creating liability against CSX railroad for negligently creating the high-humped crossing.
At DBJ, we have expertly handled and are currently handling cases involving vehicles getting stuck high-centered on railroad crossings due to the railroad’s negligence in building the tracks up over the years. When railroads choose the cheaper alternative of building the tracks up by adding more and more ballast rock to crossings instead of properly replacing the rock to keep the crossings smooth and level, innocent people lose their lives or are severely injured. The higher the hump of the crossing, the more dangerous the crossing becomes. This decision on the part of the railroad of choosing the cheapest alternative over safety creates the corner-cutting that inevitably and tragically leads to the type of wreck that occurred in Biloxi.