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Shapiro & Appleton

Deadly Accidents at Private Railroad Crossings on the Rise in Virginia

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Over the past five years, the number of railroad crossing deaths at private crossings has surpassed the deadly rail crashes at public crossings in Virginia (VA). This is a disturbing trend since railroad crossing accidents at public crossings (i.e. rail crossings at high traffic public roads) is historically higher than at private crossings (i.e. rail crossings on private, less traveled streets).

Recently, a Williamsburg woman was killed in a rail crossing crash at the private rail crossing on Richmond Road in Norge, VA. It was the second accident at that crossing in less than a month.

One potential reason we're seeing an increase in private rail crossing crashes is the fact that there are no laws on the books requiring crossbars or flashing lights at these private crossings. The law also does not require trains to blow their horns when approaching a private crossing. This means a driver could approach these tracks and have no idea a train is approaching.

If that wasn't bad enough, installing these safety mechanisms is based on agreements between the railroad company which uses the tracks and the property owner, according to the Daily Press. This can lead to questionable arrangements. For example, the property owner who has the Richmond Road rail crossing has an agreement with CSX railroad that requires him to install his own crossbars at the rail crossing. This would cost roughly $250,000; not a small price for someone who operates a small farm or local business (meanwhile, CSX and other rail companies generate billions of dollars of profit).

It would make sense to look at reforming the current laws with an eye on improving safety. Obviously, agreements between a private property owner and private company complicates further regulations, but there should at least be the option for a land owner who allows rail tracks to invoke a requirement that the rail company pay all, or at the very least a portion, of the cost of setting up crossbars and/or flashing lights.

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