The average train can weigh between 4,000 and 20,000 tons and routinely travels at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour. Given a train’s massive size and weight, most trains traveling at 55 mph can take more than one mile to come to a complete stop, even when the conductor uses the emergency brake. Given these facts, it’s no wonder why there have been so manyaccidents at train crossings that have resulted in disastrous outcomes for motorists.
TheNational Safety Council (NSC), a nonprofit, public service organization that promotes health and safety in the United States, recently reported that railroad crossing fatalities are at their highest recorded levels in 13 years. Because train-related accidents involve complex issues of federal preemption, tort law, and medical damages, it is imperative that those involved in railroad crossing accidents hire anexperienced railroad accident attorney to handle any train accident case involving injury or death. The train crossing accident lawyers at McEldrew Purtell are uniquely suited to guide victims’ lawsuits and have more than 30 years of experience in railroad injury representation.
High speeds make trains particularly dangerous
Train Crossing Accidents Are On The Rise
In the United States, train crossing accidents killed more than 900 people in 2019, which represented an 11% increase from the previous year. In Pennsylvania alone, there were more than 30 fatalities and nearly 700 incidents involving trains in that same year. According to the federal government’sNational Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorists are 20 times more likely to die in a train crossing accident than in an accident with another motor vehicle.
While many of these accidents are typically the fault of a driver who is attempting to swerve around the crossing guard or cut in front of the train,not every crossing accident is the driver’s fault. As a result, theNational Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) worked with the help of the US Congress recently mandated the installation and operation of Positive Train Control (PTC) systems. PTC systems are designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, incursions into established work zones, movements of trains through switches left in the wrong position, and collisions with motor vehicles at intersections of railroads and highways. To date, only 25 percent of passenger miles and only 60 percent of locomotives have PTC systems installed, figures that the NTSB has deemed to be unacceptable.
The damage caused to a car that was struck by a train at a crossing in Long Island NY
How to Determine Fault in a Railroad Crossing Accident
There are many factors to consider when determining fault for a railroad crossing accident. While the driver may sometimes be to blame, other factors that railroad crossing accident attorneys consider are as follows:
Railroad Crossing Design
Since trains can take more than one mile to brake, visibility, sight distances, and visual clutter can all play a part in how dangerous a railroad crossing is to the driver. If any of these conditions exist, a railroad crossing accident becomes more likely.
Passive Railroad Crossings
There are more than 250,000 railroad crossings throughout the United States, and more than 62,000 of those railroad crossings are classified as “passive crossings.” A passive railroad crossing is one that has no lights or gates to protect motorists. The NTSB has estimated that more than 60% of all railroad crossing fatalities occur at passive railroad crossings.
Accidents at passive railroad crossings are most often the result of poor visibility, driver distraction, driver intoxication, a driver trying to beat or race the train, obstacles blocking the driver’s view, and the conductor failing to sound an alarm.
When conductors are responsible for slowing a train or signaling its approach, mistakes can be made based on a number of factors. Speeding is one such factor. Data has shown that driving a motor vehicle at reckless speeds is a major contributor to motor vehicle accidents. The same applies to trains. Many railroad crossing accidents have proven that the faster a train is traveling, the more catastrophic the event. PTC is used to help mitigate conductor error and stop trains before a crash happens. However, PTC has yet to be fully implemented by the railroad industry, despite federal orders to do so.
There are many ways in which negligence can play a part in railroad crossing accidents. Negligence on the part of the railway company, a conductor or railroad employee, and even a government agency can cause such accidents. Negligence on the part of a railroad equipment manufacturer can also be the cause of a train crossing accident. Take, for example, an accident in which a crossing arm has malfunctioned. Such an incident could be the result of negligence on the part of the manufacturer.
When to Contact a Train Crossing Accident Attorney
Lead partner Jim McEdlrew is a past president of the Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys and he hashelped hundreds of families seek compensation for injuries involving Amtrak, SEPTA, and other railroads across the United States. After the 2015 Amtrak Northeast Regional derailment, Jim McEldrew fought successfully for train safety reform andpushed for nationwide Positive Train Control, which was eventually passed by Congress.