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Maintenance Negligence

Negligence from the absence of maintenance will be obvious in things like non-working brakes, non-working horns or failing headlights – which must, by law, be on at all times. Failure to have such working devices is typically considered negligence.

Possible mechanical problems on the train itself are also the responsibility of the railroad. Four laws that pertain to the mechanical hazards of a railroad are: The Hand Brake Act, The Automatic Coupler Act, The Train Brake Act, and The Boiler Inspection Act.

Industry components, whose causes and definitions are too numerous to list, include broken body bolsters, broken or defective center plates, center pins that are broken or missing, defective center sills, broken or bent center plate attachments, broken or bent draft sills, broken or defective knuckles and yokes, broken or defective coupler carriers, coupler mismatches, broken coupler shanks, broken or defective couple draw heads, broken or failed articulated connectors, coupler retainer pin, or missing cross keys, among other coupler and draft system defects.

Air hoses can become uncoupled or burst, causing brake valve malfunction or stuck brakes, malfunctioning brakes, and other brake ailments. Hydraulic hose malfunction can also cause ‘rigging down’ or dragging, which slows portions of the train, making it unresponsive. A broken brake pipe or severed connection means the handbrake is defective. An obstructed brake pipe, including an iced or otherwise stuck connection or a closed ‘angle cock,’ can cause unresponsive braking systems and accidents. Of course, worn or broken brake linkage or connections or disconnected lines can cause accidents, and a brake valve malfunction can create an emergency stop. Then there are the train cars and their couplings. Broken or defective tie down equipment or a broken or defective trailer can cause a car to vibrate on the track and eventually hamper the entire train’s ability to stop or continue along the tracks efficiently.

Should parts be assembled incorrectly, things like side bearing clearance may be insufficient, which then causes stiff, improper swiveling, stiff truck bolster, or improper lateral movement, also including friction and hydraulic malfunctions. If a bent axle is installed, it can fracture journals and cause a failure from overheating. A worn or damaged flange can cause a broken plate or a broken hub, which can cause a loose train wheel. And on running gear, remote control equipment can render many engineer’s controls inoperative and fires can cause a total catastrophic failure of all systems on board.

By federal regulation, all road locomotives carry “black boxes” which show the train speed and braking. Many also show when the bell and horn were sounded. But this is not always solid proof of negligence, since these are devices without 100% accuracy. They will almost always be used to prove diligence, but not necessarily of liability. Still, a faulty black box can be an indictment of the entire system.

Frequency of track inspection is also another area of possible negligence. Inspections depend on the track being a main line or a branch line. Main track must be inspected twice a week. Other tracks must be inspected monthly. But most track inspection is visual, which then relies on the judgment of the inspector. Often railroads use high-tech equipment and to test sections of track.

Since the speed a train travels is set, filing suit because the train was at that limit but still a hazard is rarely a case that can be successful. But if the railroad or crew was determined to ignore known hazards, then they are, in fact, liable.

Different tracks need different and more frequent inspections. The speeds, as directed by track class are as follows: Class 1 (usually sidings and maintenance yards) tracks can have a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour for freight trains and 15 mph for passenger trains; Class 2 (secondary lines) is 25 mph for freight and 30 for passenger trains; Class 3 (secondary and main) is 40 for freight and 60 for passenger; Class 4 (main) is 60 mph for freight and 80 for passenger; Class 5 (high-speed main) is 80 and 90; and Class 6 (Northeast corridor passenger) is 110 mph for both types of train.

Track inspection depends on the track being a main line or a branch line. Main track must be inspected twice a week. Other tracks must be inspected monthly. But most track inspection is visual, which then relies on the judgment of the inspector. Often railroads use high-tech equipment and to test sections of track, but not as often as standard visual inspections.

The causes of failure and the types of negligence are varied. Having an attorney with a focus in railroad litigation is critical in providing you the financial compensation you deserve. The Doan Law Firm can assist in determining damages owed you for a railroad accident. We’re available to answer your phone call any time, day or night, at (800) 349-0000!

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