Statistics 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.
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)
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:
- Driver in train-truck crash dies [Archie Ingersoll at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead]
- Male killed after collision with train on Muskowekwan First Nation [at Leader-Post]
- Train-SUV crash kills man [Nicklaus Lovelady at The Clarion-Ledger]
- Jacksonville man dies in crash with train in South Carolina [David Hunt at The Florida Times-Union]
- Train collides with 18-wheeler stuck on tracks [Jacqueline Ortiz at WOAI TV]
- Pierce County identifies man hit, killed by train in Sumner [Stacia Glenn at The News Tribune]
- Amtrak Train Hits, Kills Man In Durham [at NBC-17]
- Safety questioned at Copiah Co. RR crossing [Bert Case at WLBT 3]
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
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.