Train Crew Negligence Our Goal: Winning & Winning Big

Train Crew Negligence

Railroad crews manning a moving train have a duty to use prudence on a moving train and when approaching a crossing. As mentioned previously, trains have rules as to when and how long and at what decibel level they will announce their presence. Failure to blow a train horn is usually considered negligence. In some circumstances, for example on a multi-track line where one train is stopped as another continues, utilizing the horn is not sufficient. It still may be a requirement that a worker get off the train and use flags at the crossing area to warn motorists of the moving train behind a stationary one.

Liability of a railroad for injury or property damage – be it to passengers, trespassers, licensees, or those using train rights-of-way or pre-determined crossings points – will always depend on a breach of duty statute. Railroads will become liable for injuries or destruction of property that is caused by the carelessness or negligence of any railroad employee.

Moreover, if a railroad cannot explain in court how a specific injury occurred, which are solely within their knowledge, the railroad is usually presumed to be negligent. Even so, the individual who brings suit can’t rely solely on this; he or she must still have a solid case, which the railroad will undoubtedly attack and rebut.

The process involved in the operation of a moving train is a complicated one, but one that must be followed. Engineers are required to sound the horn using a sequence consisting of two long blasts, one short blast, and one loud blast. These are to occur at the ‘blow post’ a demarcation located some 400 yards from the crossing itself. Crews are also required to avoid injury, which sometimes can mean posting a lookout person ahead to warn the public of the approach of a train. Although a train still has the right of way, if the crew has knowledge of that an individual is approaching the crossing and who is unaware of the train, they must use all means necessary to avoid injury. That means, if possible, they must stop or warn traffic.

So a railroad crew has a duty to keep a look out ahead when approaching a crossing. But the injured party also has a responsibility. Something as large and noisy as a train is hard to miss, and before a driver is excused from not seeing something so obvious, given all the warnings the train must emit, the cause of the collision is usually the fault of the driver. But if proof of fog, dust or other material that impair visibility exist, it becomes a different matter. Same with train cars parked on side tracks and that obstruct the view of motorists or pedestrians in the crossing.

There are accepted train speeds, and they are based on particular tracks. Inside city limits, by law, locomotives must constantly ring a bell when approaching a crossing. The horn is no longer necessary – due to the noise pollution ordinances within many city limits – but the bell must be rung. In any event, the lack of a horn does not eliminate the responsibility of the railroad for safety. A train crew is responsible for a great deal, and if they neglect any of their duties, they may be liable.

Train Speed, by the way, falls under both individual and mechanical areas of possible negligence. Train speeds are closely monitored. But if gauges or information fed to the engineer is faulty and the train is travelling at excessive speed, then it can possibly be blamed on mechanical negligence. If the engineer has overridden the controls and is speeding, then it falls under crew liability and negligence. If unique conditions exist, it is the responsibility of the crew and the engineer to reduced speeds. But speed is not usually considered general negligence.

The Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 requires a national uniformity to train speed on various tracks, from 10 miles in heavily congested areas all the way up to 110 mph in more desolate regions. And if the train was traveling greater than the maximum speed allowed for the type of track on which it was traveling, then excessive speed can be cited. For the most part, however, there are no grounds for suits filed for excessive speed, even if the crash could have been avoided with slower speeds.

National guidelines exist that cover train speeds, and most trains are governed by mechanical devices to remain at or under those posted speeds. Of course, if unique conditions exist, the speeds limits need to be reduced. The Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 requires a national uniformity to train speed on various tracks, from 10 miles in heavily congested areas all the way up to 110 mph in more desolate regions. If the train was traveling faster than the maximum speed allowed for the type of track on which it was traveling, then excessive speed can be cited. For the most part, however, there are no grounds for suits filed for excessive speed, even if the crash could have been avoided with slower speeds.

The classes of track are class 1 through 6. Those may rise with newer trains, but for now there are essentially six classes in the U.S. Class 1 is designated as branch rail, yard rail, short line, and industrial spur tracks. The limits for such tracks are 10 mph for freight, 15 mph for passenger. Class 2 tracks are for secondary main lines, branch lines and are used on regional railroads; tourist operations often fall into this class. The limits on class 2 lines are 25 mph for freight, 30 mph for passenger. A class 3 line includes regional railroads and secondary main lines. The limits for such lines are 40 mph for freight, 60 mph for passenger. Class 4 is the class used for main-line tracks. These are typically used in passenger and long-haul freight service. Class 4 limits are 60 mph for freight, 80 mph for passenger. A class 5 line would be for high-speed tracks. Limits for this line are 80 mph for freight, 90 mph for passenger. The elite class 6 lines are exclusive to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor between New York and Washington, D.C.(Amtrak will be using a Class 7 status for 125 mph operation eventually) and is 110 mph for passenger trains (110 mph for freight, but there are virtually no trains that currently use class 6 for freight).

In addition to the six classes, there are also “excepted” track, which carry no passengers and operate at 10 mph. Also, these are maximum speeds; a railroad may elect to operate at a lower speed. At that point, the track then becomes a lower class track, based on the speed utilized.

So 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. The Doan Law Firm is available to answer your phone call any time, day or night, at (800) 349-0000!

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