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Brett Emison
Brett Emison
Attorney • (800) 397-4910

Texas, California and Illinois Lead Country In Railroad Crossing Accidents

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Railroad Crossing Accident StatisticsStatistics compiled by Operation Lifesaver and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) show that Texas, California and Illinois lead the nation in both car-train crashes and resulting fatalities. Fifteen states accounted for 61% of all railroad crossing crashes and nearly 75% of all railroad crossing deaths in 2009.

Many motorists take for granted that there cannot be a train accident if there are not lights flashing or no crossing arms at the railroad crossing. However, many railroad crossings are unguarded and even those with lights and gates may malfunction.

Train accidents and, specifically, railroad crossing accidents, can have devastating effects on motor vehicles. When a train hits another vehicle — a car, truck or SUV — the results are catastrophic. Often, these accidents and deaths could have been prevented.

In the last 10 years there have been nearly 29,000 railroad crossing collisions resulting in more than 10,000 injuries and 3,500 deaths.

Railroad Crossing Incidents by State (2009):

1. Texas (177)
2. California (111)
3. Illinois (101)
4. Indiana (98)
5. Georgia (95)
6. Louisiana (84)
7. Alabama (69)
8. Ohio (63)
9T. Kentucky (55)
9T. Tennessee (55)
11. North Carolina (54)
12. Iowa (52)
13T. Florida (48)
13T. Michigan (48)
13T. Oklahoma (48)

Railroad Crossing Deaths by State (2009):

1. California (29)
2. Texas (23)
3. Illinois (17)
4. Indiana (14)
5. Michigan (12)
6. Louisiana (11)
7. Florida (10)
8T. Arkansas (9)
8T. New York (9)
8T. Ohio (9)
11T. Nebraska (8)
11T. Mississippi (8)
11T. Missouri (8)
11T. North Carolina (8)
15. Georgia (6)

Congress passed legislation in 2008 that requires the FRA to make efforts to improve safety. In response, the Agency announced rules last July that require the 10 states with the most crossing accidents or collisions to develop safety plans. The 10 states have one year to make the plans and five years to implement them.

While I applaud the FRA for doing more to increase safety, I wonder why the Agency is attacking cash strapped state governments rather than railroads who actual own and operate the tracks. Railroad tracks are the privately owned property of giant railroad corporations — companies run by corporate giants like Warren Buffett and make billions of dollars in profits every year. Why are states being forced to make safety improvements for these giant, profitable railroads? Is this some sort of railroad industry bailout?

Railroads often refuse to install safety devices (such as lights and gates at crossings) without getting funding from the federal or state government. Why? Why don’t railroad companies do more to make sure their railroad tracks and crossings are safe?

Fox 4 News in Kansas City featured an in-depth story about one small town’s battle to have warning lights and a crossing gate installed. The Union Pacific Railroad refused to install the warning devices without state or local government money. The small Missouri town simply could not afford the cost.

Railroad collisions have many causes — most of which have everything to do with the railroad and nothing to do with state or local governments.

  • Failure of railroad company to install proper warning devices, such as lights, alarms (crossing bells) or a functioning crossing gate

  • Defective warnings — inoperable lights, bells or gates

  • Improper sight lines that prevent a vehicle’s driver from seeing an oncoming train until it is too late

  • Failure to properly maintain the crossing — such as allowing overgrown trees, vegetation and other foliage to obstruct or hide an oncoming train

  • Improperly parking a train at or near a crossing — this not only hides an oncoming train from view, but gives motorists a false sense of safety in seeing a parked train at the crossing

  • Failure to sound the train’s horn or whistle at or near the crossing

  • Other negligence that may appear on the train’s data recorder or video recorder

Some railroad companies even try to cover up their role in causing these collisions rather than implement safety improvements to prevent them.

In October, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad was hit with a $4 million penalty — on top of a $21.6 million jury verdict — because of its "staggering" pattern of misconduct that included destroying evidence in an attempted cover-up of its role in the deaths of four young people who were killed at one of its railroad crossings.

The Court found that BNSF destroyed some evidence, fabricated other evidence, interfered with the investigation and purposefully lied and advanced misleading facts in order to conceal the truth.

Railroad crossing collisions keep happening. In the last 24 hours, there have been several news reports of train crashes:

Railroad companies should be held accountable for dangerous railroad crossings that injure and kill. Is there a different set of rules for railroad companies than for everyone else? Railroad companies need to stop putting profits in front safety. We don’t need a railroad safety bailout when these companies have the resources to make their own tracks safe.

(c) Copyright 2010 Brett A. Emison