Unsafe Track Conditions Deadly for Railroad Workers

Unsafe track conditions can cause serious injuries or death for railroad workers. Recent accidents have emphasized the need for experienced railroad employee injury lawyers. Deteriorating or poorly maintained tracks and the lack of positive train control can contribute to accidents.

(Article continues below Infographic)

Unsafe Track Conditions Hurt Railroad Workers

Recent Accidents Indicate Need to Protect Workers

A recent crash in Texas cost three railroad employees their lives. A BNSF train heading east failed to slow at a warning signal in late June. The train also passed a red signal. The eastbound train hit another oncoming BNSF train.

Three of the four crew members involved were killed in the accident. The eastbound train was supposed to stop and let the other train pass. The accident caused the locomotives and several cars to derail from both trains. A large fire occurred at the scene, with estimated monetary damages around $16 million.

The crash in Texas is still under investigation. False signals from railroad switches are possible. Unfortunately, the two employees on the eastbound train were killed. Positive train control would have prevented the crash, according to a BNSF spokesman.

Another crash in Mosier, Oregon caused a large oil spill and fire involving a Union Pacific train. The Federal Railroad Administration indicated that the accident was likely caused by broken or sheared lag bolts. Broken bolts allowed the track to move and split apart, making it unsafe for a train to pass. This track failure was likely caused because the railroad did not maintain the track, putting the lives of workers at risk.

42,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the cars and four of them caught on fire. Sixteen of 96 cars derailed in the accident, which occurred in the Columbia River Gorge. Thousands of gallons of oil were cleaned out of the town’s sewer system, and some oil seeped into the soil, contaminating groundwater sources. No one was injured, but the impact on local wildlife will likely be ongoing.

Why Are Accidents Occurring?

There were 740 accidents between January and June of 2016, according to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis. 53 of these accidents were in Illinois, second only to Texas. Union Pacific reported the most incidents, at 230, while BNSF was second with 158.

Some of the causes of accidents include (number of accidents in parenthesis):

  • Defective of missing crossties causing a wide track (41)
  • Switch improperly lined (32)
  • Switch point that is worn or broken (23)
  • Failure to comply with restricted speed (20)
  • Wide track caused by broken spikes or fasteners (10)

Track conditions caused 233 of the accidents from January to June, and signal failures caused 13. 105 were the result of equipment failure (such as brakes or couplers). 272 of the incidents were caused by human error, including excessive speed, failure to brake properly, or improper use of the throttle.

Although all of the accidents were not severe, many would be preventable with proper maintenance. 47% of the incidents that occurred from January to June of this year were because of track condition, signal failures, or equipment failure. These dangerous conditions put workers at risk. Any worker injured in an incident should consider speaking with railroad employee injury lawyers to ensure that their rights are protected.

What is Positive Train Control?

Positive train control (PTC) is a safety system for trains designed to prevent accidents, particularly human error. It enforces speed limits and can prevent train-to-train collisions. The Metra system in Chicago is expected to be compliant by 2019. There is some controversy, as the technology is expensive and there are concerns about reliability.

What is the Federal Employers’ Liability Act?

The Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) was approved in 1908 to defend railroad employees who are injured while working. Rail use soared in the late 1800s, increasing the numbers of injured workers. The original act from 1906 was declared unconstitutional by the United State Supreme Court.

FELA is not the same as state workers’ compensation laws. FELA came several years before the first workers’ compensation laws. American railroad companies were not pleased to be held accountable, but FELA was a necessary safeguard for employees.

Under FELA, workers must prove an on-site injury. The injury must be at least in part due to negligence by the company. Negligence can be partial, meaning that the employee may be found at some fault, decreasing the amount of the claim.

Damages are available for pain and suffering and emotional problems, which workers’ compensation does not consider. Wage loss and medical treatment are also included. The rail industry has lobbied Congress to replace FELA without success.

FELA ensures that workers are protected when negligence by the railroad causes an injury. Due to the partial fault, any injured railroad workers should consult railroad employee injury lawyers to ensure a fair settlement.