Since the dawn of the automobile-dominated era and the establishment and growth of the interstate highway system, but especially since the growth of airline travel, the United States is no longer a railroad-centric society, at least in terms of passenger travel. That has not meant, however, that the nation no longer has an important rail network, especially for freight transport, which is very much a vital part of the U.S. infrastructure. In addition, passenger rail travel has enjoyed a renaissance in the United States in recent years, and high-speed rail systems are in the planning stages or have broken ground in parts of the nation, including California.
While trains travel on dedicated rails and operate within guidelines that include controlled signals, switches, crossings and other measures that theoretically should put them, their passengers and the rest of society out of harm’s way, there are, unfortunately, still several circumstances involving a train that can result in the serious injury or death of human beings.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s statistics for 2011 show that, not surprisingly, the 32,376 highway fatalities accounted for the vast majority of all transportation fatalities that year. The 800 marine fatalities ranked second, while there were 759 rail-related fatalities. However, the NTSB’s most recent statistics were recorded three years after one of the most lethal train accidents in California history occurred: the Sept. 12, 2008, collision of a Metrolink commuter train with a Union Pacific freight train in the Chatsworth section of Los Angeles that resulted in which 25 people died and another 135 were injured. The subsequent NTSB report blamed the Chatsworth tragedy on the failure of the commuter rail engineer to observe and appropriately respond to a red warning signal because he was engaged in text messaging, which distracted him from his duties.
There have been several other high-profile train accidents in the United States as well as globally in recent years that have resulted in human injury or death or environmental degradation, including the Dec. 1, 2013, derailment of a Metro-North Railroad passenger train in The Bronx, N.Y., in which four passengers died and another 59 passengers were injured, and the Dec. 30, 2013, collision of an oncoming petroleum-conveying freight train with an already derailed freight train near Casselton, N.D., that resulted in a spectacular explosion and fire emanating from the oil train.
There have also been several recorded instances of train derailments within some of the Bay Area’s train transit networks, most recently the derailment of an out-of-service BART train near the Concord station on Feb. 21, 2014. In addition, there have been several deaths of individuals over the years in the region as a result of a collision with a trains operated by Amtrak, Caltrain or BART.
The California Public Utilities Code Article 8, Sections 7671-81, is the state statute that covers a variety of actions for which train operators may be held accountable under the law, including the following punishable acts: running a freight car at the rear of a passenger train that results in injury or death of passengers; requiring train personnel such as conductors, brakemen or engineers to receive or transmit telegraphic or telephonic communications that are not authorized by the state railroad commission; failing to signal by bell, whistle or siren an impending approach of a train’s locomotive within 1,320 feet of a railroad crossing; the intoxication or impairment through use of controlled substances of any train employee while discharging their duties; an in-charge train operator willfully or negligently colliding a train with another train, automobile or any other object that results in the death of a human being; and the willful violation or omission of duty by a railroad employee that results in the endangerment of human life or safety. Some of these crimes are classified as felonies.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a collision, derailment or some other accident involving a train, it is important that you secure as much information as possible about the train operator and the circumstances surrounding the accident, including police reports, pictures, witness statements, etc. The experience of a train accident can be so sudden and traumatic that victims feel overwhelmed. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury or worse due to a train accident, the experienced attorneys at Willoughby Brod, LLP stand ready to help and will provide a free case evaluation, and they can be contacted by phone at (800) 427-7020 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.