Railroad Crossing Accidents

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In a collision between a car and a train, the train is going to win.  The average train weighs 3,200 tons, compared to about two tons for the average automobile (less so in many cases, since this factors in commercial vehicles as well). Further, trains cannot take any sort of evasive action, and it can take them more than a mile to stop from the point where an engineer first applies the brakes. The majority of urban rail crossings in the United States are equipped with pavement markers and/or crossing gates and warning lights. And yet, the vast majority of collisions between a train and a car are reported as being caused by the driver of the automobile attempting to bypass the crossing gates and “beat” the train through the crossing. At first glance, it would appear that cases where a car and a train collide are unwinnable on the part of the automobile’s driver.

Railroad Misconduct

Over the last few years, numerous cases of railroad companies tampering with evidence in railroad crossing collisions have come to light. While in any automobile accident case the defense attorneys have an interest in being as vigorous as possible in defending their clients, the practices that have been coming to light in the case of several major railroad operators is particularly egregious, and it can be easily argued utterly illegal. These cases all involved the destruction or concealing of evidence that safety devices used at railroad crossings were negligently maintained.

Because a train is not capable of stopping quickly, the standard of care (minimum acts, where anything less constitutes negligence) for maintaining and testing railroad crossing safety equipment must be very high: these safety features are almost the only thing a railroad can do on their part to prevent collisions between trains and automobiles. And, if a pattern of negligent behavior on the part of a railroad company, or the industry as a whole, were to become apparent it would make it extremely difficult for attorneys representing railroad companies in railroad crossing accidents to prove in court that any collision that occurred was more likely than not the fault of the car’s driver. This would be financially disastrous to the railroad industry.

The Statistics

While the railroad companies are quick to point to the fact that federal studies have placed the blame for 87 percent of railroad crossing collisions on “risky driver behavior or poor judgment,” the companies – not surprisingly – do not clarify that the information for these studies largely was derived from the railroad industry’s own internal accident reports. Reasonable minds might make the comparison between this and a police officer writing speeding tickets based on how fast the driver they pulled over told them they were going.

The railroads also like to point out that railroad crossing deaths have dropped by more than half since 1990, in their opinion due largely in part to their intensive “Always Expect a Train!” media campaign.  What they neglect to mention is that in this time period tens of thousands of track crossings have been closed as well, skewing any statistics that have been collected.

Contact an Automobile Accident Attorney

There are many reasons besides error on the part of the automobile driver why a collision at a railroad crossing may occur, from obscured rights of way and nonfunctional warning equipment, to human error on the part of the engineer. If you have lost a family member in a collision at a railroad crossing, the offices of the Dan Pruitt Injury Law Firm can help. Contact one of our representatives today.

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