Fatal Railroad Crossing Accident Reminder of Lack of Investment in Safety Improvements


April 30, 2013

A tragic collision between a motor vehicle and a freight train provides an important reminder of the danger of disregarding lowered railroad crossing gates.  An Iowa mother elected to proceed around a lowered railroad crossing arm and across a double set of tracks although her visibility was obstructed by a train resting on the first set of tracks.  The railroad crossing accident resulted in the tragic death of two of her daughters and the hospitalization of her third child.

While the wisdom of this decision is certainly questionable, residents in the area indicated that it was a common practice to drive around lowered guardrail arms at this particular freight train crossing.  This railroad crossing has been the sight of prior similar accidents where vehicles have proceeded around the lowered gate arms according to federal railroad crash data.

Although it is unclear whether negligence of the freight train company contributed to this particular train crossing collision, sometimes poorly designed or maintained railroad crossings may contribute to a train crossing crash.  When railroad companies fail to provide reasonably safe crossings, they may be liable for resulting train crossing accidents.

One common example is when the lack of safety at a particular railroad crossing is apparent because of a history of collisions with motor vehicles.  An investigation of a railroad crossing accident last year in Texas revealed that the particular crossing had been the site of ten separate railroad crossing accidents according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Train highway crossing accidents are more common than many people think based on data from the Federal Railroad Administration Office.  There are about 3,000 crashes involving trains and motor vehicles in a typical year with many more collisions involving pedestrians.  The federal agency that oversees railroad safety has indicated that a train derailment or collision occurs approximately every ninety minutes.

Railroad companies are responsible for the safety of passengers and can be financially responsible for elements within their control.  Railroad companies and their crews must exercise reasonable care to prevent injury to those crossing train tracks when traveling on the highway.  However, the process of establishing negligence and liability in train crossing accidents can be complicated because it takes approximately a third of a mile to stop a train moving at an average rate of speed.

Because the railroad industry is largely self-regulating, many crossing accidents occur because railroad companies do not invest in updated or safer equipment.  Most of the technology employed in the railroad industry dates back to the 1930s so little has been done to improve public safety.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 80 percent of railroad crossings do not have gates or warning lights.  The danger posed by the economic decision not to invest in public safety is reflected in the fact that more than half of all train accidents occur at these unprotected railroad crossings.

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Category: Auto Accidents

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