Two Head-On Train Crashes Cause for Concern

February 20, 2013

1382856_railway.jpgThe National Transportation Safety Board recently released reports of two head-on train collisions that occurred in 2012. Accident and injury lawyers at Pintas & Mullins remind railroad employees and passengers that they are protected under federal and state compensation programs.

The first crash occurred on the morning of June 24, 2012 near Goodwell, Oklahoma. Two Union Pacific trains were traveling on a straight track, in opposite directions. As a result of lack of train control, the east- and west-bound trains collided head-on, causing the trains to de-rail. The fuel tanks on board the trains ruptured due to the derailment, and a diesel-fed fire erupted.

Three of the four crewmembers on board the trains were killed. The fourth crewmember was able to jump from the train before the crash, and suffered only minor injuries. The final damages are estimated to be about $15 million in total. The Federal Railroad Administration, Union Pacific Railroad, United Transportation Union, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen are all involved in an ongoing investigation.

The NTSB press release indicated that factual information from the trains shows that positive train control systems were not in use at the time of the collision. If these systems had been in use, safety technologies would have prevented the crash by supplementing human operations. Investigations are currently looking into the extent of human error in the crash along with examination of the safety system programs. A public investigative hearing will be held next week in Washington D.C., on February 26, 2013.

The second crash was reportedly caused exclusively by human error. In September 2012, two north- and south-bound freight trains collided on the Canadian National Railway near Two Harbors, Minnesota. The crew on the southbound train was traveling on that section of the Canadian Railway without permission. The northbound train was carrying nearly 120 empty iron ore railcars and had authority to operate on the main single track. The southbound train had just as many railcars filled with iron ore.

In the crash, 14 ore cars and three locomotives derailed. Fortunately, all five crewmembers on board the trains survived, though they suffered injuries. Canadian Railway's signaling system is nutritiously vulnerable to error because it depends on human authority. Officials at the NTSB also stated that Canadian systems lack safety redundancies, and that crew fatigue and inadequate crew management also played a role in the accident.

The Chairman of the NTSB stated that relying exclusively on human systems is a recipe for disaster, and that the agency has investigated at least four other head-on collisions since 1996 that were the result of human negligence. The estimated total of damages is more than $8 million. Additionally, the NTSB report states that the crewmembers' use of cell phones also contributed to the crash, and that additional regulations to prevent cell phone use by train crewmembers will be necessary.

American railway companies, such as Union Pacific, are regulated by federal and state governments as common carriers. These regulations hold companies liable for even the slightest acts of negligence. Railroad workers who are injured on the job are generally protected by a compensation program called the Federal Employers Liability Act, which mandates timing and filing deadlines for railroad injury cases. Therefore, if a worker is injured or contracts an illness from the job, contacting an attorney as soon as possible is extremely important.

Train accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins are currently evaluating cases of railway injuries both for workers and passengers nationwide.