A collision between a Long Island Rail Road commuter train and a livery cab on January 7, 2015, left the train's engineer, the cab's passenger and the at-fault driver injured badly enough to require hospital treatment. The passenger appears to have sustained the most severe injuries in the crash at the street-level railroad crossing on Straight Path, while the train crewmember suffered a shoulder injury.
The grade crossing for the heavily used tracks between Penn Station and Ronkonkoma has arms and stop lights that activate automatically when a train approaches. News reports indicate that the gates had lowered before the accident but the cab driver went around the barriers in an apparent attempt to beat the train. The man's miscalculations of the time and distance he had to clear the intersection led to a crash that resulted in major injuries to himself and two others, according to the news reports.
Although I live and practice in Virginia Beach, I'm writing about this commuter rail accident west of New York City for several reasons. The first is that my personal injury law firm colleagues and I have long advocated for the development and installation of automated systems that keep vehicles off railroad crossings when trains approach. Many of the best technologies appear to be in place near the Wyandach LIRR station, but every case involves unique facts. Investigators much confirm that activation of the lights and gates happened as they should have and that no defects in the equipment contributed to the crash.
Second, I have represented railroad workers hurt on the job for three decades. The physical safety of engineers, conductors, brakemen and other crewmembers is one of my primary interests, but it often gets overlooked when considering train-car collisions. As the wreck on Long Island illustrates, rail employees often suffer injuries due to the recklessness and negligence of other people.
Last, as the Tide light rail system in Norfolk, VA, increases its ridership and, likely, reach into Virginia Beach, the likelihood of crossing collisions like the one on Long Island will increase. No measures can ever prevent every accident, but focusing on mistakes made elsewhere, as well as the solutions implemented, can improve the safety of train and rail commuters and drivers in my own backyard.