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Railroad crossing lawsuit reinstated against Union PacificThe Nebraska Supreme Court has reinstated a young woman’s lawsuit against Railroad giant, Union Pacific, alleging that the Union Pacific train crew failed to apply the brakes once the crew realized they might collide with the vehicle in which the young woman was a passenger.

According the AP:

[The young woman] was 18 when the vehicle she was riding in was struck by a Union Pacific freight train near Belvidere in Thayer County. The rural crossing had no barriers or lights to warn motorists of an approaching train, and the driver later said she didn’t see the train before pulling into the crossing.

The train’s engineer testified under oath that he activated emergency brakes when he saw the vehicle pull onto the tracks, but the train’s event recorder showed the emergency brakes were not activated until nearly 200 feet after the crash occurred. The crash left the young woman paralyzed from the chest down.

Just to the south of Nebraska, Missouri has been one of the top 10 deadliest states for railroad crossing crashes. Too many people are being killed by freight trains and passenger trains across the country because railroad companies, like Union Pacific and other large railroad companies, refuse to take responsibility for protecting motorists from their massive trains.

Railroad companies are responsible making sure their train crossings are safe. That means the crossings have proper sight lines and visibility that allow drivers to see approaching trains, that trees and vegetation are cut back, that railroads do not park trains near the crossing (that would confuse drivers), that signals and gates are working properly, and that train crews sound a warning with the train’s horn or whistle as the train is approaching.

Railroad crossing crashes are a tragic, preventable problem across the country. Railroad companies need to do more to ensure that their railroad tracks and crossing protect approaching motorists. Railroads need to start putting safety first.

These train-vehicle collisions are a tragic reminder of how dangerous railroad crossings can be. In the last 10 years, there have been more than 30,000 railroad crossing accidents and more than 3,600 train accident deaths.

These train accidents can have many causes, including:

  • Failure of the railroad company to install proper warnings, 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

Read More:

[More on Railroad Crossing Dangers]

(c) Copyright 2011 Brett A. Emison


  1. Gravatar for John Holt

    Unfortunately, you do not list the most common causes of train-car accidents: driver inattention (including listening to music and unable to hear warnings); driving too fast for conditions (running into the sides of trains); circumventing warning systems and attempting to beat train to crossing; and intoxication. There are probably a couple of more that could be added.

    The point is that railroads are not always blameless, but the vast majority of these accidents are due to one of the causes I have noted.

    You have an obvious bias, which is unfortunate. Always blaming someone else for an accident does not solve the problem.

    John Holt

  2. Gravatar for Brett Emison


    Thanks for reading, but we seem to disagree on a couple of areas. First, let me addressed your accusation of bias. I am biased toward safety. We all have a point of view, and if you read this blog, you know my point of view is oriented towards safety.

    In the railroad context, this means taking some of the massive profits railroad companies make and using that to install flashing lights and gates at each and every one of their railroad crossings. Yet RR companies refuse, unless taxpayers pay part of the bill. Railroad companies make billions by running trains across these tracks.

    Why should they get a railroad crossing safety bailout from taxpayers like you and me? They have a responsibility to make sure their crossings are safe and motorists are properly warned and protected from oncoming trains.

    I also disagree with you regarding "the most common causes of train-car accidents". Believe it or not, an oncoming train is easily hidden from sight if there is poor railroad crossing geometry or if the railroad company fails to cut trees and vegetation near the tracks.

    Of course, motorists are sometimes at fault in these collisions (certainly so when they drive around functioning gates). But there are far too many times when the railroad fails to uphold its duty to make sure the crossing is safe.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment - I hope you'll continue reading.

  3. Gravatar for Alice Remington

    the railroad giants claim it's the responsibility of the municipalities to provide proper protection at railroad crossings...i couldn't disagree more! it's just that they are so greedy & unconcerned about public safety that this is their stance...IT SHOULD BE THE LAWFUL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE RAILROAD COMPANY TO PROVIDE LIGHTS & GATES, OR AT LEAST FLASHING LIGHTS, AT CROSSINGS THEIR TRAINS USE! & in this particular case, the engineer's failure to engage the emergency brake in a timely fashion is particularly unsettling...what was the cause for this?

  4. Gravatar for Tom

    One important fact that you didn't mention is that, in most cases, the land under the railroad crossing is owned by the railroad. When you demand that railroads pay for all crossing improvements you are telling us that they need to allow someone (the public) to have access to private property and that they have to pay the bill for allowing you to use there property.

    Government pays for improvements like lights and gates because they are crossing private property. What is more the railroads are required to pay to maintain those crossings.

    If the situation were reversed and the government owned the land it would be right for the railroads to be required to pay for all improvements, like gates and lights. In that case it would also be right for the railroads to be required to pay some type of lease fee to use the crossing. But this is not the situation.

  5. Gravatar for Brett Emison


    Thanks for reading and leaving your comment, but your position is simply not correct. Since the 1800s, Railroads have had an affirmative duty to construct and maintain safe railroad crossings.

    "Railroad crossings are designed for use by the public as highways, and one passing over them is only required to exercise ordinary care, having in view all the circumstances. These circumstances include the known duty of a railroad company to make and maintain the crossing in the manner required by statute.... Streets and crossings are alike designed for public travel, and both are alike required to be kept in a reasonably safe condition." Nixon v. Hannibal & St. J.R. Co., 42 S.W. 942 (Mo. 1897).

    This long standing duty continued throughout the 20th century. "When a railroad crosses a public street or highway there is a common law duty to construct and maintain the crossing in a condition which makes it reasonably safe for travel." Patterson v. Thompson, 277 S.W.2d 314 (Mo. App. 1955).

    Nebraska has agreed: "Railroads are given the right to lay their tracks in and across the streets of municipalities of this state by statute, and this right carries with it a corresponding duty on their part to construct and maintain at all times proper and safe crossings on the streets intersected." Phoenix Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Lincoln, 135 N.W. 445 (Neb. 1912).

    Moreover, statutes concerning a state's power over certain matters regarding safety devices at railroad crossings do not abrogate the railroad company's duty to provide adequate warnings to make the railroad crossing safe. Alcorn v. UP R. Co., 50 S.W.3d 226 (Mo. banc 2001).

    Railroad companies run their trains across public highways for commercial gain and make billions of dollars in the process. (UP had net profits of $2.8 billion and BNSF made nearly $2.5 billion in profit in 2010.) Why should city governments be forced to pay for what amounts to plant safety equipment for railroad giants like UP and BNSF?

    Isn't one of the costs of doing business ensuring that your business can be performed safety and will not injure or kill your workers or the public?

    Why should city, county, and state taxpayers be forced to pay for the railroad's safety equipment? Wouldn't that money be better spent on schools? Or police, firefighters and other emergency responders? Or refunded to taxpayers? Or just about anyplace other than the pockets of these giant railroads?

    Railroads have a duty to construct and maintain safe railroad crossings. That duty includes the duty to adequately and appropriately warn approaching motorists of oncoming trains through the use of safety devices like warning lights and gates.

    Railroads shouldn't be given a free pass at taxpayer expense.

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